Now the machines are setting their sights on white-collar, professional careers and they're proving themselves to be vastly superior at doing them than their feeble human predecessors.
Computers are getting better at mimicking human reasoning — as viewers of “Jeopardy!” found out when they saw Watson beat its human opponents — and they are claiming work once done by people in high-paying professions. The number of computer chip designers, for example, has largely stagnated because powerful software programs replace the work once done by legions of logic designers and draftsmen.
Software is also making its way into tasks that were the exclusive province of human decision makers, like loan and mortgage officers and tax accountants.
These new forms of automation have renewed the debate over the economic consequences of technological progress.
David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the United States economy is being “hollowed out.” New jobs, he says, are coming at the bottom of the economic pyramid, jobs in the middle are being lost to automation and outsourcing, and now job growth at the top is slowing because of automation.
“There is no reason to think that technology creates unemployment,” Professor Autor said. “Over the long run we find things for people to do. The harder question is, does changing technology always lead to better jobs? The answer is no.”