The Huffington Post, September 15, 2010

It should be noted that most of the layoffs are probably not directly related to the decision to use robots. Nonetheless, I think this shows that even healthcare--the one field on which nearly everyone pins hopes for significant job growth--is not immune to automation. It also demonstrates that the economic tradeoff between robots and even relatively low wage/low skill jobs is beginning to tip in favor of the machines.

Economists often speak of "polarization" in the job market. The belief is that technology has primarily impacted middle skill jobs, leaving plenty of high wage opportunities for the well-educated as well as lots of low skill service jobs with very low wages. As I've been arguing here, I think this is what has been happening so far--but it will not continue to be true indefinitely. Automation will push up into the high wage areas via technologies like specialized artificial intelligence/expert systems, while it penetrates lower skill job sectors with more affordable robotic technologies. In general, I think economists have a serious problem with analyzing past data, determining a trend, and then assuming it will continue basically forever. Technologies change rapidly.

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