Robots Could Replace Almost Half of US Jobs by 2036
Automation through robots and other artificial intelligence could affect nearly half of all US jobs, a report from the Obama administration has found. Education and job-training programs could prevent the sea change from destroying the American economy.
Scientists and economic advisers within the executive branch studied the potential effects of artificial intelligence on the US workforce and economy over the next 20 years, as well as ways to prevent the technological advances from automation from potentially destroying job opportunities for Americans ‒ which they said it could, for up to 47 percent of jobs. Rather, the authors sought to guide the government’s automation policy to create better economic opportunities for the country as a whole.
“These transformations will open up new opportunities for individuals, the economy, and society, but they have the potential to disrupt the current livelihoods of millions of Americans,” the 55-page report said. “Whether AI leads to unemployment and increases in inequality over the long-run depends not only on the technology itself but also on the institutions and policies that are in place.”
The authors compared use of AI to how the Industrial Revolution introduced mass production to the economy, which negatively affected the livelihoods of skilled craftsman, as well as to the rise of computers in the workplace, which benefited white-collar workers.
“Output per hour rose [in the 19th Century] while inequality declined, driving up average living standards, but the labor of some high-skill workers was no longer as valuable in the market,” they wrote. “The advent of computers and the Internet raised the relative productivity of higher-skilled workers.”
“Shifting demand towards more skilled labor raised the relative pay of this group, contributing to rising inequality,” they continued. “At the same time, a slowdown in the rate of improvement in education, and institutional changes such as the reduction in unionization and decline in the minimum wage, also contributed to inequality—underscoring that technological changes do not uniquely determine outcomes.”
Although the report cautioned that it’s difficult to predict exactly how robots and other AI might change the economy in the future because it’s “not a single technology, but rather a collection of technologies that are applied to specific tasks,” the authors noted that the trend has been similar to what happened with computerization that occurred at the end of the 20th and start of the 21st centuries. AI could affect as little as 9 percent of jobs over the next decade or two ‒ or it could threaten nearly half of all jobs.
A September report released by Forrester Research found that 6 percent of jobs could be taken by “early-stage intelligent agents,” as soon as 2021. In November, a brief from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) claimed that up to two-thirds of all jobs in the developing world could be replaced by automation. More than 1.3 million Brits could lost their jobs to computers by 2030, according to research by Oxford University and consultancy firm Deloitte.
Although “AI-driven automation has yet to have a quantitatively major impact on productivity growth,” the administration’s report said, industries such as transportation and fast food are already seeing the results of automation, thanks to self-driving cars and the use of kiosks and other automated ordering systems.