Surprising Findings from a New Study on AI and Jobs

It’s not news that automation is continuing to eliminate jobs. But what’s coming next through artificial intelligence (AI) is far more nuanced and maybe more surprising than what’s generally assumed, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution. The study used a method developed by Michael Webb, a PhD candidate in Economics at Stanford University, who compared job descriptions with the descriptions of new AI technologies contained in patent filings. Which jobs are those new technologies likely to replace?

Webb’s modeling suggests that just as the impacts of robotics and software tend to be sizable and negative on middle- and low-skill occupations, AI likely will have negative consequences for higher-skill jobs. Vulnerable are relatively well-paid managers, supervisors, and analysts — as well as increasingly well-educated production workers who are involved with AI on the shop floor. AI is likely to have much less impact on most lower-paid service workers.

Manufacturing is third on the list of industries with exposure to AI after agriculture and utilities, with motor vehicle manufacturing and textile industries displaying some of the highest average AI exposure scores. This likely reflects the explosion of emergent AI applications in industries for controlling robotics, detecting anomalies, recognizing patterns and more. Apparel manufacturers, for example, now can train AI systems to quickly and accurately identify defective garments on a production line. Carmakers and other manufacturers are deploying algorithms to process reams of sensor data and anticipate when equipment failures are likely to occur or when to perform maintenance.

The report noted that “the nation’s eastern heartland — sweeping from Wisconsin and Michigan though Indiana, Kentucky, and into Alabama and Georgia — will be heavily involved with AI given its association with manufacturing, which is increasingly linked with machine learning and related applications.” But it also found cause for concern along the high-tech/managerial Northeast corridor as well as in California and Washington.

“Webb’s machine learning statistics suggest AI could bring new patterns of impact across the labor market — ones fundamentally different from those brought by previous technologies,” the report concludes. “It now looks as if whole new classes of well-paid, white-collar workers who have been less touched by earlier waves of automation will be the ones most affected by AI.”

Learn more about the Industrial Automation track at IndEx 2020 here.