Economics

Don't Assume Robots Will Be Our Future Co-Workers

Simple machines didn't displace humans in the past. But smart ones might.

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Photographer: pascal guyot/afp/getty images

Of all the economic questions being debated today, the most frightening one is “Will the robots take our jobs?” This nightmare scenario comes in several flavors. The extreme version is that automation simply makes human workers obsolete, just as cars made horses redundant. A less apocalyptic possibility is what economists call “skill-biased technological change” -- people who are technically savvy, mentally flexible and educated will reap greater and greater rewards while everyone else sees their wages decline. These two scenarios might look different on paper, but the net result is largely the same -- a very big portion of humanity would be either be impoverished or reduced to living off of the government dole. Books like "The Wealth of Humans," by economics writer Ryan Avent, explore this frightening possibility.

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