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MIT Technology Review
Weekend Reads: Automation & Employment

Robots have been making factories more efficient for years, but as they improve in ability their presence threatens to distort the economy and boost unemployment. This week Bill Gates suggested taxing the use of robots, to subsidize worker retraining and even slow the machines’ adoption. But he’s not the first to consider how we should deal with an army of automatons in the workplace. Here, we explore the MIT Technology Review archive to investigate the effects of automation on labor.

After World War II, productivity—the amount of economic value created per hour of labor—increased with the number of jobs. But since 2000, that trend has stopped. That’s just one exhibit in support of the case that technology is reducing the need for people in many workplaces.
A recent report suggested that over the next few years at least, jobs may be stolen away by robots more slowly than anticipated. The reason: for the foreseeable future, the only way to achieve greater economic prosperity will be for robots and humans to work together.
Roboticists are all too aware that the factory floor will be staffed by a mix of human hands and mechanical grabbers for a while. So robots like Baxter are being developed specifically to work in environments where the two must coöperate.
As more robots appear in the workplace, it seems inevitable that their economic benefits will be enjoyed by their owners, not their human peers. Can we get better at sharing the wealth that technology helps create?
Some parts of Silicon Valley have suggested that in the longer term, giving in to the market forces of automation and simply paying everyone a standardized basic income would solve the problem of the eroding job market. We beg to differ.
Truth is, technology is changing the world we work in whether we like it or not. So we need to invent new ways to make sure everyone benefits.
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