Technology can Replace High-Skill Jobs, Too

So says a recent New York Times article:

“There is no reason to think that technology creates unemployment,” [David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology] said. “Over the long run we find things for people to do. The harder question is, does changing technology always lead to better jobs? The answer is no.”

Automation of higher-level jobs is accelerating because of progress in computer science and linguistics. Only recently have researchers been able to test and refine algorithms on vast data samples, including a huge trove of e-mail from the Enron Corporation.

“The economic impact will be huge,” said Tom Mitchell, chairman of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “We’re at the beginning of a 10-year period where we’re going to transition from computers that can’t understand language to a point where computers can understand quite a bit about language.”

The article describes how advances in technology have been used to conduct such high-skilled tasks as legal research and medical diagnostics.  All of this serves as an important warning:  higher levels of education are no longer a guarantee of high-wage employment.  Responding to this trend may become the most pressing challenge facing economic developers in the decades ahead.

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