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Will Smart Machines Create A World Without Work?

â¿¿THE ECONOMY CONTINUES TO PRODUCE JOBS, JUST NOT ENOUGH GOOD ONES

Some economists worry that the sluggish, lopsided labor market of the past five years is what we'll be stuck with in the future.

Smarter machines and niftier software will continue to replace more and more midpay jobs, making businesses more productive and swelling their profits.

The most highly skilled workers â¿¿ those who can use machines to be more productive but can't be replaced by them â¿¿ will continue to prosper. Many low-pay jobs are likely to remain sheltered from the technological offensive: Robots are too clumsy to tidy up hotel rooms or clear dirty dishes at busy restaurants.

"Computers can do calculus better than any human being," says Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at MIT's Center for Digital Business. But "restaurant bus boy is a very safe job for a long time to come."

Under this scenario, technology could continue to push economic growth â¿¿ but only a few would enjoy the benefits. More people would be competing for midpay jobs, so pay would shrivel. Many midskill workers would be left unemployed or shunted into low-skill, low-pay jobs. The income gap between the rich and ordinary citizens, already at record levels in many developed countries, would continue to widen.

Most economists say that unequal societies don't prosper; it takes a large and confident middle class to produce the consumer spending that drives healthy economic growth. "In the long run, you could actually see growth stopping," says economist Maarten Goos at Belgium's University of Leuven. "If everyone is employed in low-wage service jobs, then, that's it."

â¿¿TECHNOLOGY LEADS TO MASS UNEMPLOYMENT

In a speech last year, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers declared that the biggest economic issue of the future would not be the federal debt or competition from China but "the dramatic transformations that technology is bringing about."

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