Which Jobs Will AI Eliminate and Which Will it Create?
Artificial intelligence (AI), previously reserved for science-fiction, has become a real-world sensation. In the last decade, AI has transformed from imagination into a serious reality.
People tend to react to such monumental change by embracing it or fearing it.
The fear is spawned by various reports that suggest some types of jobs will disappear and be made obsolete by AI. Is this fear-mongering or is it a legitimate concern that AI will eliminate some jobs while creating others?
The History of Technology’s Threat to Jobs
There has been an underlying fear for decades that even more powerful technology such as AI will automatically create longer unemployment lines. This fear of humans competing with machines for jobs is not pure fantasy and actually has a long history in the United States.
For example, the advent of electricity and steam power both radically changed the industrial landscape. At the time, many feared they would lose their jobs to these technological advances. And ATMs were supposed to make bank tellers obsolete, while emails should have been the demise of the U.S. postal service.
Society never (at least not for long) regarded steam power and electricity as bad, yet there was a genuine fear of the technology when it was first introduced. Is AI just a newfangled version of electricity? Are people overreacting to the damage it could do to the job economy?
It’s too early in the game to answer that question as AI is still in the maturation process, and even so-called experts in the field are reluctant to assess what the fully developed technology will be capable of. The only fact most would agree on is that it’s here to stay and will impact humanity’s future greatly.
The ‘47 Percent’ Threat
The biggest proponent of the coming AI workforce threat takes the form of a 2013 report released by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne. In the study, the authors suggested that at least 47% of jobs will be lost to AI and related technology.
The problem with the percentage quoted is that it is taken out of context by the media. While Frey and Osborne did agree that 47% of future jobs will function with increased automation in some way, the suggestion was not that nearly half of all current jobs would vanish due to this automation. Only that they would be impacted by AI to some extent.
The Intergovernmental Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development followed up with their own report in 2016, which predicted that actual job loss related to automation would be closer to 9%.
Job Loss Related to Automation
Though experts may disagree on the precise number of jobs that will be lost to AI and increased automation, there is little doubt that some will vanish.
The question is exactly how many?
Low-skill jobs stand the greatest chance of becoming fully automated (without the need of a human) over the next few decades. Included would be cashiers, receptionists, bank tellers, fast food workers, and telemarketers (among many), all of which have functions that can largely be done by AI already.
The bottom line is that any job that includes repetitive tasks that are precise and controlled and requires no reasoning or higher-order thinking could be at risk. In addition to repetitive jobs, others like truck drivers and postal delivery could find themselves threatened by the rise of self-driving vehicles, courtesy of AI.
Automation has already put a serious dent in production and manufacturing. How quickly it will consume other industries has yet to be seen.
Job Growth Because of AI
Now let’s put the bleak news related to artificial intelligence behind us and get into some of the more promising aspects of automation.
Though jobs that involve taking down information and/or inputting the data into a system are first up to die in the AI Revolution — the theory that it will only destroy without creating, makes for juicy headlines — the reality is that some experts argue that AI won’t eliminate nearly as many jobs like the ones it creates. Accenture released a report last year that estimated new applications of AI combined with human collaboration could boost employment worldwide as much as 10%.
The biggest issue is will those that have worked and relied upon low-skill jobs for years be able to adapt to the newer, higher skilled job opportunities?
It’s essentially the same scenario that played out in America during the Industrial Revolution. Farmers could suddenly afford to get more work done with fewer hired hands, thanks to new equipment and processes, so lay-offs were common, but jobs opened up in factories for those able to transition into the booming production and manufacturing sectors.
The biggest question in the AI Revolution is whether the number of new jobs will be able to replace the number that is lost? As in the Industrial Revolution, except that those able to adjust to a new career path, and perhaps different industry, will prosper.
In particular, there will be a skyrocketing demand for people who can write software code, repair and maintain robots, and do all the things that keep the AI industry moving forward. One sector that has already seen a massive increase in worker demand is cybersecurity. These are the people that design, configure, and maintain the computer networks currently under assault by the exponentially increasing number of malware attacks.
While the concept of a virtual private network (VPN) is known to a large number of internet users as an almost mandatory privacy tool, the recent AI security algorithms built into many popular consumer VPN applications would not have been possible without people performing jobs that didn’t exist five years ago.
For better and/or worse, AI is like nothing humankind has witnessed before. The more the field advances, the more good, and potentially undesirable, side effects will become obvious. How we ultimately decide to use this technology will have a lot to do with what the future job market looks like.