Will smart machines create a world without work?

A growing number of technologists and economists are wondering if middle-class jobs will return when the global economy recovers, or are they lost forever because of technological advancement?

WASHINGTON  — They seem right out of a Hollywood fantasy, and they are: Cars that drive themselves have appeared in movies like "I, Robot" and the television show "Knight Rider."

Now, three years after Google invented one, automated cars could be on their way to a freeway near you. In the U.S., California and other states are rewriting the rules of the road to make way for driverless cars. Just one problem: What happens to the millions of people who make a living driving cars and trucks — jobs that always have seemed sheltered from the onslaught of technology?

"All those jobs are going to disappear in the next 25 years," predicts Moshe Vardi, a computer scientist at Rice University in Houston. "Driving by people will look quaint; it will look like a horse and buggy."

If automation can unseat bus drivers, urban deliverymen, long-haul truckers, even cabbies, is any job safe?

Vardi poses an equally scary question: "Are we prepared for an economy in which 50 percent of people aren't working?"

An Associated Press investigation released in January 2013 found that millions of mid-skill, mid-pay jobs have disappeared over the past five years and have been replaced with technology. That experience has left a growing number of technologists and economists wondering if middle-class jobs will return when the global economy recovers, or are they lost forever because of the advance of technology

 

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