Allan, this is a great point. I agree that some large portion of content is discussion — conversation which would have normally been something said to friends or at a cocktail party.
I’m not sure I agree with you that content has always been a commodity — especially not if it’s basically just conversation.
Regarding your questions, I think that the robotic manufacturing of things that work is fine. The problem is we have differing views about what it means to have content “work”.
For content mills, just looking for ad revenue from pageviews, content “works” so long as it gets eyes on the page — regardless of whether it adds value to the readers.
For readers, that content doesn’t really “work”. It’s redundant and empty.