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As Robots Grow Smarter, American Workers Struggle to Keep ­p

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robot delivers towels

A robot delivers an order of fresh towels to a room at the Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, Calif.

Credit: The New York Times

Economists and technologists have long said the march of technological progress and increased automation will create new jobs and opportunities that offset the jobs they make obsolete, but experts are increasingly less sure this axiom still holds true. The last several decades of technological progress has brought unprecedented gains in productivity, largely due to innovations in computer and communications technology, but that period has also seen decreased labor force participation and stagnating wages and many worry these trends are poised to accelerate with artificial intelligence and other technologies moving into everything from sales and vehicle piloting to personal training and psychiatry. Self-driving cars, for example, could completely eliminate truck and taxi drivers as a class of workers.

Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers recently said he no longer believes automation will always create new jobs. A recent University of Chicago survey of leading economists found 33 percent believed technology was the central reason median wages have stagnated.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist Erik Brynjolfsson says ensuring that new technological innovations do not undermine the labor force is "the biggest challenge of our society for the next decade." However, Brynjolfsson and other experts believe society can meet the challenge in ways that will enable technology to be a positive force.

From The New York Times
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