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Artificial Intelligence

Workshop: Will Robots Take Our Jobs?​ The Past, Present, and Future of Work


Who is this Workshop for?

High school students with an interest in economics, history, political sciences, and/or sociology who like to explore these topics in a hands-on approach with actual data.

Workshop Description

Will robots and other intelligent machines replace human labor? What do people do whose jobs are substituted by machines? What policies could help them? And what can we learn from past major innovations that transformed the workplace throughout history?


This research workshop will explore these questions. Students will learn how work in the U.S. has changed over time, starting with the introduction of the factory in the late 18th century, the railway as major change in the network of goods, markets, and workers, the introduction of the steam engine, as well as the introduction of computers and modern machines that can “think” for themselves via artificial intelligence. In Module 1, Dr. Ferrara will guide students through the history of the American workplace, teaching both the history as well as the economic theory and data patterns to provide students with rigorous tools to further their understanding of the topic. Students will learn about the historical changing nature of the American workplace due to technological innovations which not only affected the employment and wages of workers but also who could perform certain tasks, such as women and children, or how education became more important over time due to these developments.


In Module 2, students will work with Dr. Ferrara to develop a research topic that involves the development of their own original research question, as well as the collection of economic data and methods of data analysis to provide a data-driven answer to this question. The deliverable for the project will be a written report that includes a description and motivation of the chosen research question, its historic background, the data and its analysis using basic statistical concepts, and the conclusion reached by students based on their results.

Sample Research Topics

  • Did the introduction of the steam engine in the 19th century mainly create or destroy jobs? What can we learn from this experience for the modern workplace?

  • How did technological change enable women and children to work in the factories of the 19th century U.S. North and how can this explain its relative prosperity compared to the South today?

  • Why has the introduction of computers led to a polarization in the U.S. labor market by removing middle-skilled jobs while high- and low-skilled jobs continued to grow?

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