Last week, the Brookings Institution came out with a big study on which states and cities would be most affected by improvements in artificial intelligence and automation. The report adhered to all of the tropes we’ve come to expect from AI coverage.
Headlines (including our own) emphasized who was most at risk of losing their jobs. My favorite headline was from the Denver Post, which announced that the Brookings report proved the “Colorado workforce [is] well placed to fend off job-stealing robots.”
Some 36 million U.S. workers are in jobs that qualify as having a high risk of being automated — that is, 70 percent of the tasks that make up the job have the potential to be done by an automated system within the coming decades. On the bright side, the report found that only 0.5 percent of U.S. jobs are made up of tasks that, at the current rate of technological innovation, could be 100 percent automated by 2030.
While the potential job loss is striking, one thing I’d like to emphasize after looking through the onslaught of coverage is that job loss due to automation won’t look exactly as it’s sometimes depicted in the media — a scenario in which a company will replace all the workers in its factories with robots. This is is something I wrote about previously at VentureBeat.
First of all, it’s not just factory workers who are at risk of losing their jobs — it’s also hotel workers, administrative assistants — anyone whose job consists of very routine tasks. And some automation-related job loss may not be obvious at first glance.
Yes, some workers will get laid off as a warehouse brings in more robots — but other factory workers may also quit because they don’t like the new work arrangement or don’t like constantly relearning how to work with a new operating system. And companies don’t always make it clear in their announcements about reduced headcount that they were able to get by with fewer people because of automation.
Lastly, the Brookings report noted that smaller metro areas are most at risk of shedding jobs in the coming decades. These are regions that are already overlooked by national media, and because reporters aren’t checking in regularly on what’s going on in Toledo, Ohio or Kokomo, Indiana we won’t observe how these areas are consistently losing more and more jobs, even as tech hubs gain them.
The bottom line is that 36 million people aren’t going to get laid off at once. I worry that if we lose sight of that, key stakeholders will decry fears of automation as overblown — until it’s too late for Heartland cities.
As always, thanks for reading, and please send me your thoughts and feedback via email.
Heartland Tech Reporter
Check out this Brookings Institution video from last year on “The future of work: Robots, AI, and automation”
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