AI is Coming for You: The Effects of Artificial Intelligence on the Occupational Landscape

In a report from November 2017, global management consulting firm, McKinsey and Company, stated that by 2030, an estimated 50% of current work activities will be automatable by technologies which have already been proven to work effectively. Additionally, this startling analysis states that in 60% of our occupations, a minimum of one-third of activities have the potential to be automated. Further, this account anticipates that within the next twelve years, approximately 400 million to 800 million people could be displaced by automation. As these striking statistics demonstrate, artificial intelligence is predicted by many to have continual and growing impacts on the workplace, specifically in regard to how it will alter job descriptions and eliminate some jobs altogether.

In the words of Arwa Mahdawi, as written in the 2017 article, “What Jobs Will Still Be Around in 20 Years,” published by the newspaper The Guardian, “Today’s technological revolution is an entirely different beast from the industrial revolution. The pace of change is exponentially faster and far wider in scope.” With abounding research offering evidence to support such comments, it is hard to deny this fact. It is a certainty that massive modifications to employment as we know it are inevitably barreling toward us. Yet, a higher overall presence of automation does not equal job loss. Instead, for many careers it signals a transitional period. For instance, Professor Richard Susskind, author of the books, The Future of the Professions and Tomorrow’s Lawyers, stated his belief in an interview with Mahdawi, highlighted in the previously mentioned article, that in 2025, the job description for all lawyers will change to include an ability to develop computer systems that offer advice. Thus, many job descriptions will change, but their titles will remain the same.

Despite this notion, some careers will be entirely affected or taken over by AI. Machine learning algorithms, which utilize statistical techniques to enable computer systems to autonomously gain knowledge from data, are already capable of replicating patterned activities, and finding more efficient ways to complete step-by-step tasks. Professions that will be jolted the most by AI are those which are routine, repetitive, predictable, and often offer low-income. According to Patrick Scott, who authored a September 2017 article entitled, “These Are the Jobs Most at Risk of Automation,” published by the newspaper The Telegraph, “Researchers at Oxford University [released the results] of a widely referenced study in 2013 on the likelihood of computerization for different occupations. Out of around 700 occupations, twelve were found to have a 99 percent chance of being automated in the future. [These included] data entry keyers, library technicians, new account clerks, photographic process workers and processing machine operators, tax preparers, cargo and freight agents, watch repairers, insurance underwriters, mathematical technicians, sewers by hand, [such as weavers and stitchers], title examiners, . . . and telemarketers.” As we can see, in one way or another, each of these occupations meets some or all of the previously discussed criteria for jobs which are predicted to be most heavily shaken by AI.

So, what jobs are safe? Will any jobs remain completely unaffected by advancements in artificial intelligence? The answers to these questions are still relatively unknown. However, jobs that are believed to be unlikely victims of AI takeover, at least in the short term, all involve skill sets which are specifically human. For instance, jobs that require high levels of complex creativity will most likely be safe for a while.

Machines are already capable of composing their own music and painting original works of art, as well as annihilating human counterparts in gaming competitions by executing creative moves. Interestingly, artificial intelligence has even made its way into the kitchen. AI-powered robots such as Chef Watson, who creates brand new recipes based solely on his knowledge of flavor pairings and taste chemistry, and Flippy, who makes and serves meals at speeds human chefs find extraordinarily challenging, are inescapably paving the way for further technology usage in the culinary industry. Despite this, in many cases, unique skill sets related to creativity are still expected to prevail, at least for a while. Artists, scientists, and business strategists will likely be among the group of safe job titles which involve advanced creativity.

Occupations which require building complex relationships with people are also predicted to outlast many other trades. One commonly recognized profession that specifically calls for this skill set is nursing. In fact, many jobs in the medical field are expected by analysts to survive for an extended length of time, not only because of hands-on patient care aspects, but also due to their unpredictability. No one can predict when accidents will happen, when life-threatening illnesses will invade, or when airborne toxins will make people ill. No one can predict when the next drug overdose will take place, or when a child will injure himself on the playground. Because of this vast uncertainty, individuals who can quickly assist others and offer rapid medical attention will always be needed in some capacity or another. However, the process of diagnosing simple ailments such as strep throat and common cold may at some point be entirely overtaken by robots operating with AI, as these are common, easily-identifiable, and typically non-life-threatening conditions.

On a different note, while completing research to better understand this topic, I found myself pondering the answer to an interesting inquisition. That is, statistically, are female or male humans expected to be more affected by AI? Thus, I began searching for the answer to this question, and what I found was somewhat fascinating. As you may know, at this time, women tend to not make up a large proportion of individuals who pursue careers directly related to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), in addition to IT fields. Projections show that jobs in these areas are highly likely to grow. However, many women work in care-related industries, such as healthcare and education. Occupations in these fields are expected to be at a  significantly lower risk of automation. Therefore, in the long run, women might actually end up faring better from technological change. A report published in March 2017 by PricewaterhouseCoopers echoes this view, as its associated statistics show that a higher proportion of male than female jobs might be at risk of automation, especially those of minimally-educated men.

So, what can we take away from this information? How can being knowledgeable of these predictions help us now? Firstly, recognizing that changes to our workforce are likely approaching because of the lightning-speed progression of advanced technology offers us insight into the future and gives us an awareness of what might be headed our way. Secondly, knowledge of this can help us make better and more informed decisions regarding our career and educational choices. AI is not synonymous with Halloween horror, it is simply a stepping stone into what is suspected to be a norm of times ahead. In the words of Albert Einstein, “The future is an unknown, but a somewhat predictable unknown.” Thus, even though what lies ahead is uncertain, we must be prepared for what is possible. I hope the information I have offered you today regarding the impacts of artificial intelligence on the workplace has helped you in some way, planted a seed in your mind, or, if nothing else, evoked the slightest bit of curiosity.

 

 

Works Cited

Berriman, Richard. “Will Robots Steal Our Jobs? The Potential Impact of Automation on the UK and Other Major Economies.” UK Economic Outlook, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Mar. 2017, www.pwc.co.uk/economic-services/ukeo/pwcukeo-section-4-automation-march-2017-v2.pdf.

Dormehl, Luke. “Replaced by Robots: 10 Jobs That Could Be Hit Hard by the AI Revolution.” Digital Trends, Digital Trends, 11 Aug. 2018, www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/8-example-of-jobs-automated/.

Mahdawi, Arwa. “What Jobs Will Still Be Around in 20 Years? Read This to Prepare Your Future.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 June 2017, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/26/jobs-future-automation-robots-skills-creative-health.

Manyika, James, et al. “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: What the Future of Work Will Mean for Jobs, Skills, and Wages.” McKinsey & Company, McKinsey and Company, Nov. 2017, www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/jobs-lost-jobs-gained-what-the-future-of-work-will-mean-for-jobs-skills-and-wages.

Scott, Patrick. “These Are the Jobs Most at Risk of Automation According to Oxford University: Is Yours One of Them?” The Telegraph, Telegraph Media Group, 27 Sept. 2017, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/09/27/jobs-risk-automation-according-oxford-university-one/.

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