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Practically Human: Can Smart Machines Do Your Job?

"A sergeant used to read them, sign them, an officer would photocopy them and another drive them to headquarters," says Dick Reed, an assistant chief overseeing technology. "Think of the time, think of the salary. You're paying an officer to make photocopies."

Thanks to the software, the department has been able to maintain the number of cops on the street at 600.

The software, from Versaterm, a Canadian company, is being used by police in dozens of cities, including Denver, Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas.

â¿¿In South Korea, Standard Chartered is expanding "smart banking" branches that employ a staff of three, compared with an average of about eight in traditional branches. The bank has closed a dozen full-service branches, replacing them with the smart branches, and expects to have 30 more by the end of this year. Customers do most of their banking on computer screens, and can connect with Standard Chartered specialists elsewhere by video-conference if they need help.

Comerica, a bank based in Dallas, is using new video-conferencing equipment that lets cash-management experts make pitches to potential corporate clients from their desks. Those experts, based in Livonia, Mich., used to board planes and visit prospects in person. Now, they get Comerica colleagues in various cities to pay visits to local companies and conference them in.

"The technology for delivering (high quality) video over a public Internet connection was unavailable 12 or 18 months ago," says Paul Obermeyer, Comerica's chief information officer. "Now, we're able to generate more revenue with the same employee base."

The networking equipment also allows video to be delivered to smart phones, so the experts can make pitches on the run, too.

â¿¿The British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto announced plans last year to invest $518 million in the world's first long-haul, heavy-duty driverless train system at its Pilbara iron ore mines in Western Australia. The automated trains are expected to start running next year. The trains are part of what Rio Tinto calls its "Mine of the Future" program, which includes 150 driverless trucks and automated drills.

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