A new study by the Brookings Institution in Washington DC proposes a new approach to the problem. By comparing job descriptions with text from AI patents and looking for common terminology it is possible, say the researchers, to draw some conclusions about the most threatened tasks and occupations.
Their conclusion is that AI will affect almost all occupational groups in some way, but “white-collar jobs (better-paid professionals with bachelor’s degrees) along with production workers may be most susceptible to AI’s spread into the economy”.
This contrasts with past assumptions that it would mostly be lower-skilled and unskilled workers who would be threatened. Instead, Brookings found that “workers with graduate or professional degrees will be almost four times as exposed to AI as workers with just a high school degree”. Factory workers will be affected but they are increasingly likely to be well-educated and working with AI on the shop floor, as other research has confirmed.
Men are more likely to be affected than women, because they are over-represented in production, technical and professional roles. Women’s over-representation in occupations with a heavy interpersonal element, such as healthcare and education, will shield them from much of the effect of automation because those tasks require ‘soft skills’ that are among the hardest to automate.
Augmenting, not replacing
While many people will be worried by this report, the picture does not have to be bleak. Some jobs will not be replaced but augmented. For example, there is a growing trend for ‘cobots’ – robots that can work alongside humans, automating some elements of a task but not all. These will not replace human workers but instead help them work more efficiently.
A similar pattern is emerging with ‘augmented intelligence’ in the software world. AI can take on some of the tasks that it handles better than humans, such as searching large databases, but humans will still be required for things like face-to-face consultations.
In other cases, the growth of AI will create entirely new jobs. ‘AI ethicists’ will become more common, for example, while there will be growth in manufacturing and managing a whole range of new AI-enhanced products and services.