Brookings Institution, a think tank based in Washington D.C., recently released a report called "Automation and Artificial Intelligence: How machines are affecting people and places."1 It examines how artificial intelligence (AI) will shape our future, including its effects on jobs and innovation.

"The power and prospect of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) initially alarmed technology experts, for fear that machine advancements would destroy jobs," the report says. "Then came a correction of sorts, with a wave of reassurances minimizing their negative impacts. Now, the discourse appears to be arriving at a more complicated, mixed understanding that suggests that automation will bring neither apocalypse nor utopia, but instead both benefits and stresses alike. Such is the ambiguous and sometimes disembodied nature of the 'future of work' discussion."

Those concerned about the negative impacts won't find much comfort in the conclusion that automation and AI are expected to impact occupation in virtually all fields, though the impact will affect professions and market segments differently.

The report looks at some interesting trends. For example, it finds that roughly 25 percent of U.S. employment will face "high exposure" to automation in the decades to come. A startling 70 percent of "current task content" is at risk of substitution, it says. It also indicates that 36 percent of employment in the United States will experience "medium exposure" to automation within the next 11 years. Another 39 percent is expected to experience "low exposure."

The occupations most vulnerable to the coming rise of automation are those in office administration, production, transportation, and food preparation, according to Brookings.

"Such jobs are deemed 'high risk,' with over 70 percent of their tasks potentially automatable, even though they represent only one-quarter of all jobs," the report warns. "The remaining, more secure jobs include a broader array of occupations ranging from complex, 'creative' professional and technical roles with high educational requirements, to low-paying personal care and domestic service work characterized by non-routine activities or the need for interpersonal social and emotional intelligence."

The findings suggest that higher-educated workers are at less risk of losing their jobs to automation, at least in the near term. The "near-future automation potential," the report says, will be highest for roles with lower wages, and that "better-educated, higher-paid earners" will face lower automation threats.

Location also plays a role in the size of the threat. Workers in heartland states are bound to be hit the hardest by automation, based on data in the report, though the threat to other states isn't a lot lower. The biggest differences are the result of the amount of manufacturing and agriculture jobs in heartland states. Both are industries that stand to be greatly impacted.

The main conclusion drawn by the report is that AI and automation will have many positive impacts on the economy in the United States despite some uncertainty and turbulence. It calls on the nation to understand that technology doesn't "just happen" and can be "shaped."

This is certainly not an easy pill to swallow for workers negatively impacted by automation and AI, but it is a reality that the technology is not only here to stay, but also to continuously improve the nation. For many, adaptation will not be optional, but critical.

Ultimately, the Brookings report shines a positive light on the future of the technology at hand, indicating that automation and AI will enable businesses to accomplish bigger and better things. While many jobs are undoubtedly in jeopardy as a result of the technology, an unknown number of new jobs will also come about a result.

The report hardly sugarcoats the situation, however, acknowledging that the years to come may be "rough" and emphasizing the importance of the role government will play in the overall impacts on society. Brookings maintains that policymakers should explore five main areas in dealing with automation. These are: embracing growth and technology, promoting a constant learning mindset, facilitating smoother adjustment, reducing hardships for struggling workers, and mitigating harsh local impacts.

1. https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/2019.01_BrookingsMetro_Automation-AI_Report_Muro-Maxim-Whiton-FINAL-version.pdf

 

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