AUTOMATION NATION: Will advances in technology put people out of work or give them new purpose?

Author:Berlin, Olivia

Welcome to the fourth Industrial Revolution. Cars are driving themselves, scanners have replaced clerks and cashiers, and 3-D printers are spewing out everything from medical models and musical instruments to firearms and high-heeled shoes. Discoveries in artificial intelligence, robotics, nanotechnology, genetics and biotechnology are coalescing, resulting in dramatic changes in how we live, play and work.

As these technological innovations plow--or, rather, hoverboard--forward, more and more jobs are being automated. The result is a widespread, and not totally unfounded, fear that these advances will put millions of people out of work.

Automation isn't inherently a bad thing, of course. Historically, new technology has led to new jobs, greater efficiency, increased productivity and higher living standards across the country. But some believe this time it's different. This time it's happening much more quickly and affecting a wider variety of jobs.

According to a 2016 jobs report by the World Economic Forum, "The accelerating pace of technological, demographic and socioeconomic disruption is transforming industries and business models, changing the skills that employers need and shortening the shelf-life of employees' existing skill sets in the process." Even jobs that are less directly affected by technological change, the report says, may require that workers learn new skills in the coming years.

Which Jobs and Why?

In a widely publicized 2013 study, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, from Oxford University, surveyed 702 occupations and found that 47 percent of American workers had jobs with a higher than average risk of being automated in the coming years. In addition to manufacturing jobs, they included service, sales, office, administrative and transportation jobs, as well as some construction and financial jobs.

"What determines vulnerability to automation is not so much whether the work concerned is manual or white-collar, but whether or not it is routine," Frey and Osborne write.

Among the hardest jobs to automate are those requiring high-level STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, but don't worry if you're not a math whiz. Also difficult to automate are jobs that call for creativity or the yet-to-be-replicated "human touch." These include "caring" professions that rely on meaningful social interactions and an ability to empathize and exhibit emotion. Teachers, clergy, home health aides and social workers all are professionals with a less than 10 percent chance of being replaced by machines in the next 20 years, according to the Oxford scholars.

The World Economic Forum agrees. "Overall, social skills--such as persuasion, emotional intelligence and teaching others--will be in higher demand across industries than narrow technical skills, such as programming or equipment operation and control."

Re-employment, the New Normal

Although Frey and Osborne focused on jobs lost to automation, plenty of others predict that computerization will create a variety of new jobs. In past industrial revolutions, technology has been a "great job-creating machine," according to a 2015 study by the consulting company Deloitte. This revolution likely will be no...

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