Jobs and the Clever Robot

2/25/15
 
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from The Wall Street Journal,
2/24/15:

Experts rethink belief that tech always lifts employment as machines take on skills once thought uniquely human.

Economist Erik Brynjolfsson had long dismissed fears that automation would soon devour jobs that required the uniquely human skills of judgment and dexterity.

Many of his colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where a big chunk of tomorrow’s technology is conceived and built, have spent their careers trying to prove such machines are within reach.

When Google Inc. announced in 2010 that a specially equipped fleet of driverless Toyota Prius cars had safely traveled more than 1,000 miles of U.S. roads, Mr. Brynjolfsson realized he might be wrong.

“Something had changed,” Mr. Brynjolfsson said, recalling his astonishment at machines navigating the many unpredictable moments that face drivers.

From steam engines to robotic welders and ATMs, technology has long displaced humans—always creating new, often higher-skill jobs in its wake.

But recent advances—everything from driverless cars to computers that can read human facial expressions—have pushed experts like Mr. Brynjolfsson to look anew at the changes automation will bring to the labor force as robots wiggle their way into higher reaches of the workplace.

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