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What Clever Robots Mean For Jobs


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Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management professor Erik Brynjolfsson with a robot named Baxter.

Some economists now believe new technology could result in a net loss of jobs.

Credit: Gretchen Ertl/The Wall Street Journal

For a long time economists maintained that although new technology might displace workers and change the nature of their work, it would not result in a net loss of jobs. However, now some economists think the situation is likely to be more nuanced than that, as technology is quickly automating work that previously only humans could perform.

For example, Rio Tinto mines in Australia now employ automated drills and trucks and will soon use automated trains to cart away ore. Computers around the world do legal research and can write simple news stories and stock reports. They also translate conversations and generate advertising and perform compliance due diligence at banks, all jobs that once required trained and skilled human workers. Meanwhile, self-driving car technology continues to advance and could reduce the need for human truck and taxi drivers.

However, many economists believe these advances also will create demand for new jobs. Rio Tinto, for example, may have laid off truck drivers and drill operators, but it now employs numerous network technicians and "mechatronic engineers," a job category that did not exist as recently as five years ago.

Others remain adamant that several problems, such as teaching machines how to see and reason like a person, will take decades to resolve, meaning automation will not advance through the workforce as quickly or completely as some fear.

From The Wall Street Journal
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