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VOL. 41 | NO. 31 | Friday, August 04, 2017

The threat of robotics

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Are the robots coming for our jobs? Like anything else in the world of economic and workforce development, the rise of artificial intelligence and the automated workforce is boon to some, bane to others.

For employers, robots mean a 24/7 workforce that doesn’t require benefits or vacation pay. For employees, AI is the creeping end to good jobs and economic security. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.

“I wouldn’t say that AI Is not an issue in Tennessee, because it’s an issue everywhere,” says Dr. Bill Fox, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the Haslam College of Business, University of Tennessee.

“But new technology isn’t something that just happened last week. Automation, in some form or another, goes back hundreds of years. The economy usually responds by creating jobs that none of us thought about.

“If you go to Volkswagen, you’ll see hundreds of robots doing things,’’ he adds.

“Employment in the auto industry used to be much higher to produce the same number of cars, so technology is making a difference there. As we transition toward autonomous vehicles, there will be fewer cars made, most likely. What will the impact of that be?”

He notes that robots need repair, and new robots must be designed, so there is room for humans to nibble around the edges of that and other transformative technology.

“Technology can play out a lot of ways, and something may come along that uses labor in a way we never thought of,” Fox acknowledges. “People can transition to a new industry, but that’s never smooth, so we have to work more to help that happen.

“A construction worker isn’t always going to be able to become a computer programmer. We’re in a time of great change and workers need to be able to adapt, but public policy and services to help them also need to be made available.”

-- Joe Morris

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