In 1992, AT&T announced it would replace up to one-third of its 18,000 long-distance operators with speech recognition software that could process only four phrases: person-to-person, collect, yes, and no. It was used for only three operations: to determine whether a long-distance call was person-to-person, whether it was collect and whether the recipient of a collect, long distance call would accept the call’s charges. Nonetheless, the software created significant job displacement. Projecting the future of work requires better understanding of how digital technologies are reshaping the occupational structure and available employment.
Economist Frank Levy will examine the impact of Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) on call center operators to better understand the possibilities and limitations of technology by matching it against the requirements of a specific occupation. He will study whether ASR and NLP, like other computer technologies, will complement skilled labor and substitute for mid-skilled labor.