(credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON, DC—Cars and trucks no longer need drivers. Executives can get digital personal assistants to read their e-mail and manage their schedules. Cities may soon send robots instead of rescue teams to save people from natural disaster areas. And medical sensors and machine-to-machine communication can now do the work of some caregivers, monitoring and helping to manage patient care.

The myriad ways that technology is creeping into the workforce and nudging out humans has long been on the minds of policy experts and economists. But some say we’ve come to a major turning point at which technology will entirely reshape employment. Ars sat in on a forum, held Monday at the Brookings Institution, to hear the latest thinking on what new technology might mean for human workers. While healthy debate ensued, one point was settled by the three panelists: healthcare needs to be decoupled from jobs.

“It’s crazy” that healthcare benefits come through employers, Nick Hanauer, an entrepreneur and author, told Ars. The future of work might see individuals being pushed out of full-time, long-term jobs and into a hodgepodge of part-time, temporary positions, such as a Taskrabbit by day and a part-time hotel worker by night. If you have a bunch of different jobs, Hanauer said, it’s just untenable for you to rely on one for health benefits.

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