For many sectors of the U.S. economy, the future of work is automation. What that will look like, however, is still uncertain. Robot overlords? AI-driven unemployment?
A new report from the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank, sheds some light on how automation could affect various industries, demographics and areas of the country over the next two decades. What it reveals is that some workers stand to lose out at far greater rates than others.
Researchers analyzed data from McKinsey and the 2016 U.S. Census and found that fully a quarter of the country’s jobs are at “high risk” of automation, meaning that 70 percent or more of their tasks could be done by machines. These jobs are disproportionately held by men; young people; Hispanic, American Indian and black workers; and workers in rural areas.
Education, though, may be the greatest factor in determining the threat that robots pose to one’s livelihood: Jobs requiring less than a bachelor’s degree have more than twice the exposure to automation than occupations requiring a college degree. Non-degree jobs, which include roles like packaging machine operator, delivery service driver and retail salesperson, have an average automation potential of 55 percent, compared with 24 percent susceptibility among jobs requiring a college degree.
The areas most insulated from algorithmic extinction are, predictably, those requiring human interaction, reasoning and creativity, such as education, management, health care and the arts. This also explains why the researchers discovered that women are less vulnerable than men: They account for upwards of 70 to 90 percent of the labor force in jobs like teaching and nursing.
Categories that are now flourishing thanks to the rise of e-commerce, including warehousing and trucking jobs, are at risk of disruption as robots get smarter and unmanned-vehicle technology improves. According to the report, automation risk could be as high as 59 percent in manufacturing and 58 percent in transportation and warehousing. Retail sales jobs, already under siege, could also be further threatened by self-checkout kiosks and cashier-free, Amazon Go-style stores.
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