download (2)Robots have been eliciting some strong feelings lately, an irony that is surely lost on them. Economists warn that the amazing technological strides made in recent years—everything from smartphones, to automatons that can work safely on shop floors alongside humans, to driverless cars—could soon put large swaths of the workforce out of a job. “We are at an inflection point,” MIT researchers Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee assert in their new book,The Second Machine Age. “The key building blocks are already in place for digital technologies to be as important and transformational to society and the economy as the steam engine,” the authors say. The technological strides of the past few decades have contributed to the nation’s rising income inequality, they argue, because only a small group of people tends to benefit income-wise from inventing the next iPhone or tax-preparation software. And Brynjolfsson and McAfee believe the biggest labor-market effects have yet to be felt. A separate 2013 study by Oxford University researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne might give a taste of what’s to come; Frey and Osborne say that nearly half of American jobs are at “high risk” of being taken over by robots in the next decade or two. Economists take this idea seriously, and it has a number of policy implications, particularly when it comes to higher education. MORE