The scope of technological trends influencing business processes is often difficult to objectively quantify while such technological changes are evolving. The economic impact of the rising use of AI and automation on jobs fall under this category. Research and studies have pegged different sets of numbers—all from the mass displacement of employees to the use of AI creating equal number of new jobs in their wake—and while many still speculate how the use of AI will reshape the future of jobs across the globe, there is little doubt in its potential to actively do so. And now studies suggest that previously held notions of white collared, high skilled jobs being impervious to such an impact might be wrong.
Amidst much of the debate on AI, a recognized fact has been on the impact of automation and AI on low skilled jobs. Much across the developed markets across the US and Europe, companies have already begun using technologies like robotics and AI to automate jobs that require relatively less specialized skills. Instances of such changes have already been noted across sectors like retail, manufacturing, and IT.
With the level of specialization required for some jobs being relatively low, they become vulnerable to be replaced by technology. It is for the same reason reports suggest a significant impact of automation would happen across rural areas where jobs are dominated by fairly low skilled work, a fact especially true for the west1. Even across Indian markets, a similar trend has been noted where many of the transactional jobs like managing workflow and customer-facing conversations are slowly being automated. Across manufacturing too, the rise in the use of AI in everything, from the cars you drive to the washing machines you use, would lead to jobs being displaced, impacting the skillset requirements of factory workers.
Much across the developed markets across the US and Europe, companies have already begun using technologies like robotics and AI to automate jobs that require relatively less specialized skills
But this impact of AI and intelligent automation is not going to remain limited to blue-collar jobs only. Recent reports from the Brookings Institute suggest the white-collar jobs too might be under threat of facing competition from their machine counterparts.
Expanding the scope of analysis
In a study published by the Brookings Institute2, researchers hoped to assess the potential of jobs being performed by AI programs in the near future. The methodology consisted of going through texts of existing AI patents and comparing them to job descriptions currently being used for such professions. The overlap between the patent text marking what the AI program could do and keywords within job descriptions was then quantified to assess the kinds of tasks and occupations likely to be affected.
Based on the methodology used by Michael Webb,3 a researcher from Stanford, the study—focused mainly on US job markets—notes that the impact of AI would be pervasive across the jobs ecosystem and that such an impact will not be equally distributed. By some estimates, the impact on white collared jobs might overshadow that on blue-collared jobs. The report highlights that using this methodology, findings reveal that those with bachelor’s degrees will be much more exposed to AI than less-educated groups and in parallel workers in higher-wage occupations (toward the right) will be much more exposed than lower-wage workers.
A reason for this, the report notes, is the inherent ability within such jobs to be impacted by advancements in AI. Portfolios like market research analysts and sales managers to programmers, management analysts, and engineers all stand affected. After performing the analysis, the report concluded that the role of AI will be significant in the future work lives of managers, supervisors, and analysts. One that is will not be limited to traditionally held notions of jobs impact under AI and intelligent automation but would rather shake up all sorts of white-collar work from law firms, marketing roles, and publishers to computer programming.
The report notes that often analytic or supervisory nature of these roles appear to be “heavily involved in pattern-oriented or predictive work, and may, therefore, be especially susceptible to the data-driven inroads of AI, even though they seemed relatively immune in earlier analyses. By contrast, it appears that numerous low-paying, rote jobs engaged in providing hands-on services (such as in personal care, food preparation, or health care) will be relatively unexposed to changes from AI applications. This, for the time being, was possible according to the report.
By some estimates, the impact on white collared jobs might overshadow that on blue-collared jobs
It is important to note however that the study refrains from stating that such tasks will be broadly replaced and result in a loss of work. But rather significant portions of jobs that require a high degree of skill specialization could potentially be exposed to, complemented by, or completed by AI.
From concepts like Universal Basic Income to having lifelong learners, the future would require better safeguards to ensure human employability
Another prediction in a bowl full of others
Predictions and projections about the future of jobs with regards to developing technologies like AI are often hard to pinpoint. A major part of it is due to the uncharted nature of the progress of AI. According to scholars Erik Brynjolfsson and Tom Mitchell, there is “no widely shared agreement on the tasks where machine learning systems excel, and thus little agreement on the expected impacts on the workforce and the economy more broadly.” This puts many predictions made on the eventual impact of the technology on the future of jobs across an entire spectrum of possibilities.
In addition to this, the timeline of such changes is also debatable. Experts agree that across most cases the implementation of AI, from self- driving autonomous cars that can teach themselves to self-improving decision-making algorithms deployed by businesses, has usually been a slow and drawn-out process. Companies investing in AI technologies begin to benefit from it usually after a long period of implementation, improvements, and investments. In many cases, using AI-based programs are currently limited to chatbots and decision making instances where natural language processing plays an important role. Beyond this, AI is usually responsible for incremental changes in businesses that usually aren’t inherently digital.
But that is not to underestimate the potential of having an AI-driven future. It might eventually transform the economy—by making new products and new business models possible, by predicting things humans couldn’t have foreseen. Studies like this help add another piece to the puzzle, in efforts to provide a clearer picture and prepare both employers and job seekers in ways to deal with changing times ahead. From concepts like Universal Basic Income to having lifelong learners, the future would require better safeguards to ensure human employability.
- Automation and Artificial Intelligence: How machines are affecting people and places: Brookings Institute
- What jobs are affected by AI?:Brookings Institute
- The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on the Labor Market