There is a widespread fear that the proliferation of new artificial intelligence technologies could lead to significant job losses in certain areas. For example, why use a travel agency when you can book online? Why use a financial planner when you can use software? Will the software reduce the number of people hired as tax preparers? Will smart robots reduce the number of jobs moving goods in warehouses? How about less retailers needed because of scanners? Why would a radiologist go through every single x-ray when scanning with software is a much faster and more accurate way to take the first x-ray?
So what’s the evidence? Are jobs more difficult in areas that seem particularly receptive to new technologies? Michael Handel of the Bureau of Labor Statistics aggregates data from 1999 to the pre-pandemic years and then looks at projections through 2029 of the number of people employed in various job categories in Growth Trends for Selected Occupations Considered at Risk. from automation” (Monthly Labor Review, July 2022). He wrote:
Recent advances in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) have generated even more interest than usual, and the breadth and speed of these advances have raised the likelihood of widespread job displacement in the near future. Many observers see these new technologies as fundamentally different from previous waves of computing. New computing capabilities—in areas such as image recognition, robotic manipulation, text processing, natural language processing, and pattern recognition, and more generally the ability to learn quickly and improve in relatively autonomous ways—represent a break with manual control. encoded, based on the rules of the program of the past. From this perspective, newer robots and AI represent a clear departure from previous waves of computing that are accelerating the pace of technological change and job displacement.
Handel is compiling a list of professions that are generally considered to be already subject to changes in artificial intelligence or may soon become susceptible. Here is a list of professions and how the number of people employed in such jobs has changed.
In a number of cases, starting with financial advisors and translators at the top of the list, the number of employees in these categories is rising rather than falling. In a number of cases, new technologies appear to bring about changes in the way the old way of doing a given job, but they do so in a way that complements and enhances the ability of workers in that category to do their job—and thus lead to change. to increase the number of jobs, not to reduce. There are also counter examples, such as job cuts in the categories of travel agents, programmers, telemarketers and welders. In these areas, new technologies replace workers rather than complement them.
For a couple of centuries, there have been fears that technology is destroying jobs. It would be more accurate to say that technology is changing the mix of jobs. Given that most workers gain experience in a particular job and then it can be difficult or costly to move on to another job, shifts in technology will benefit some and harm others. Furthermore, predicting in advance when technology will eventually increase jobs (financial consultants and translators, obviously) and when it will replace jobs (programmers and travel agents, obviously) is difficult and often not obvious in advance.
Handel also identifies 30 job categories that suffered the biggest losses in absolute terms between 1999 and 2018. Many of these categories are not about changes in newfangled AI technologies, but about more fundamental changes from the previous wave of computerization and automation, including data entry, word processing, switchboard and computer operators, and clerks. However, it is worth remembering that as these categories of jobs declined, the total number of jobs in the US grew by 17%.