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Guided robots in Yiwu, China. Photo: Zhang Cheng / Xinhua / Getty

Some of the more optimistic forecasts on robots forecast that it's not jobs that will vanish, but tasks. That is, about half of the things that make up current occupations are automatable, according to a recent report by McKinsey, however that just means the workers will retrain and transform those jobs into something else.

But, but, but: According to a new report by Barclays called Robots at the Gate, those little tweaks to jobs are precisely what makes automation so pernicious: Wages, says report author Ajay Rajadhyaksha, end up suppressed because automation happens in steps, steadily eroding the value of a job as it assumes control of the tasks required to do it.

The bottom line: This is the case for the best new technologies, sometimes continuing even decades after their release, said Rajadhyaksha, who heads Barclays' macro research team. "Technology frequently ends up lowering the skill-set needed to do a job," he writes, "in turn expanding the pool of potential workers, which then acts as a drag on wage growth."

  • When a new technology is released, Rajadhyaksha told me, small things that may not seem important end up being primary to their impact. As an example, he cites the introduction of rear cameras and power steering to semi-trucks. Since the trucks were now easier to navigate and required less strength to steer, driver wages fell. "You see this over and over," he said.

Go deeper

President Joe Biden vows to be "a president for all Americans"

Moments after taking the oath of office, President Joe Biden sought to soothe a nation riven by political divisions and a global pandemic, while warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country and defeat a "virus that silently stalks the the country."

Why it matters: From the same steps that a pro-Trump mob launched an assault on Congress two weeks earlier, the new president paid deference to the endurance of American political institutions.

Updated 45 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inauguration Day dashboard

U.S. Capitol and stage are lit at sunrise ahead of the inauguration of Joe Biden. Photo: Patrick Semansky - Pool/Getty Images

President Biden has delivered his inaugural address at the Capitol, calling for an end to the politics as total war but warning that "we have far to go" to heal the country.

What's next: Biden and Vice President Harris review readiness of military troops, a long-standing tradition to signify the peaceful transfer of power.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated as president and vice president respectively in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Top Democrats and Republicans gathered for the peaceful transfer of power only two weeks after an unprecedented siege on the building by Trump supporters to disrupt certification of Biden's victory. Trump did not attend Wednesday's ceremony.