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Talking Computer Wins Jeopardy, Is Your Job Next?

In a three-night Jeopardy version of The Matrix, machine trounced man. IBM's (IBM) supercomputer, dubbed Watson for the company's founder, handily beat two former champions of the show, Ken Jennings and Brad Ruttner.

Humans took comfort where they could, but even a report that Watson crashed during the taping was apparently incorrect. So much for solace. And now, the hard questions come. When so much of business is the handling and manipulation of data, could people at all levels of employment and even entire companies literally face obsolescence? The pain of automation that factory workers have felt for years now visit the knowledge worker class.


The signs are already here. Taavet Hinrikus, an early employee at Skype has a start-up, Transferwise, that "enables cheap peer-to-peer currency exchange." Rather than going through banks and commercial exchanges, Transferwise matches people who have complementary needs to transfer currency: for example, one person wants yen instead of British pounds, and the other needs pounds rather than yen. The company can make the exchange for 2.5 percent of the going commercial rates. When more people and companies take advantage of the far cheaper rates, expect many to gain the label, "former foreign exchange industry worker."

Transcriptionists? Who needs them? Accountants? Most can go as machines increasingly make decisions. Warehouses aren't immune, as robots pick products for shipments. The top of the employment food chain isn't rosy, either. IBM and Watson will work with Columbia University Medical Center to test the technology's ability to ask questions, understand answers, and sift through massive amount of data as a diagnostic tool. Will doctors lose jobs? Not today. But in the future, who knows? Mutual fund managers, call centers, technical training -- all are possible applications. And possible places where machines will displace humans. How long before a computer makes smarter decisions than a CEO?

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Image: IBM
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