Dr Peter Warren Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told delegates at RSA 2010 that humanity is poised to enter a golden age of robotics.
The robotics industry is at a stage comparable to the car industry in 1909, he said, and humans will increasingly use robots on a day-to-day basis.
However, Dr Singer warned that this raises ethical questions that could have a dramatic impact on society.
"The car changed everything in a single generation," he said. "Take dating. It didn't really exist until cars gave kids the freedom to get out and about. Before the car they were forced to court each other on their parents' porches."
The first moves in this robotic revolution will be in the military sphere, according to Dr Singer. The US Air Force is already recruiting more pilots to fly drones than manned aircraft, and the US Army is planning to have half its squads made up of robot troops by 2015.
This is not without its problems, however. Dr Singer cited a case in 2008 when a South African computer-controlled anti-aircraft gun suffered a software glitch and killed nine of its own soldiers before running out of ammunition.
The US is currently leading the way in robotics research, but other countries are investing heavily in the technology and America's dominance is not guaranteed. Dr Singer gave the example of the tank, which was invented by the British but improved and refined by the Germans.
Part of the problem is the technology skills gap in the US. Dr Singer pointed out that the number of computer science graduates from American universities had remained the same over the past decade, while the number of degrees in leisure management had risen 500 per cent over the same period.
Finally, Dr Singer dismissed Isaac Asimov's famed Three Laws of Robotics when it came to the ethical programming of robots.
"It is not the ethics of these robots' programming, but the ethics of the people using them that matters," he said.
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