Will robots steal white-collar jobs next?

Blue-collar America has been dealing with competition from automated manufacturing for decades. Are doctors, lawyers, and CEOs next on the block?

(Image credit: Ian Lishman/Juice Images/Corbis)

"For years, white-collar workers have been insulated from the perils of automation, sitting comfortably in their offices while reading news stories of blue-collar workers getting replaced by robots," says Brian Fung at Talking Points Memo. Well, the future may be catching up with doctors, lawyers, journalists, scientists, and other holders of "thinking jobs" — at least according to economists, entrepreneurs, and futurists who anticipate the looming takeover of the white-collar workforce by robots who are smarter, faster, and more productive than any human. Is this really our future?

Yes. The robots are coming: The main reason unemployment is at 9 percent is because aggregate demand tanked during the Great Recession, says Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. "But it is not the only reason." As we've transformed from a connected world to a "hyperconnected world," white-collar workers have to compete with "a bigger pool of cheap geniuses — some of whom are people and some [of whom] are now robots, microchips, and software-guided machines."

"How did the robot end up with my job?"

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The upper crust, at least, seems safe: Friedman's point "is in part true," says Dean Baker at Business Insider. But the big picture he offers is still "completely out of focus." Maybe if a robot had written his column, it might have tried explaining how this new-age competition has managed to depress the wages of everyone but a small group of people at the top who have "been able to game the system to largely protect themselves from such competition." Because so far, the new world order Friedman is touting seems not to have affected incompetent CEOs or the "six-figure buffoons" in Washington.

"Will Thomas Friedman's column be better in the future?"

The question is how we adapt: Automation will hit the white-collar world, says Torie Bosch at Slate. But "just because a robot can do something doesn't mean a human won't have a complementary role" of some sort. In the best case scenario, this means shared prosperity, with robots doing all the work and humans reaping the wealth. Or else we'll all end up in service jobs. In that case, maybe it "will be better for schoolkids to learn deference, friendliness, and fashion sense than science and technology."

"Will robots take your job? Not if you adapt..."

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