Visualizing the Jobs Lost to Automation
The employment landscape of the future will look very different than it does today.
In plain black and white, it shows the jobs that exist today in contrast to the jobs that are expected to disappear as a result of automation in the workplace. Though, technically speaking, it is applying the probabilities of the widely-cited Frey & Osborne (2013) study to U.S. jobs as of 2016 to give an expected value to each job title.
A Different Landscape
In the near-future, many of today’s most common jobs may be changed profoundly. People working as retail salespersons, cashiers, fast food counter workers, and truck drivers will likely see opportunities in those fields dry up as automation takes place.
At the same time, jobs such as those in teaching and nursing are expected to stand the test of time, as they require empathy, creativity, and a human touch not yet available through machines. In the coming decades, it’s possible that these could even be professions that employ the most people overall.
Casualties of the Fall?
In the vastly different employment landscape of the future, the worry is that low income workers will have fewer opportunities available to them as technology comes into play.
The good news? Historically this has not been true. As an example, nearly 500 years ago, Queen Elizabeth I had a similar fear when she denied a patent for an automated knitting machine. The thought was that the machine would kill jobs, though eventually factories and companies adopted similar technologies anyways. With the lower prices, higher demand for knitted goods, and more capital for investment, jobs for factory weavers actually quadrupled in the coming years.
As we’ve seen over time, while machines destroy jobs, they also often create new ones.
Composition of U.S. Job Market over the Last 150+ Years
The bad news? It is now clear that agricultural jobs of the early 20th century were replaced with the white collar jobs of today. However, it is much more difficult to forecast out how some of the jobs of the future will be created, especially for low income workers.
The knitting example above certainly applies in some situations – but in others, it’s hard to say what will happen. For example, with millions of unemployed long-haul truck drivers, what roles will these people be taking in the future job market?
Even with costs of transportation and logistics going down, increased demand, and more capital to invest, it seems that there’s going to be a lengthy period of time where many of these people will have trouble finding work.
Do they join the company to help manage the many more trucks that are self-driving? It’s unlikely, and that is the part of the optimism about automation and future jobs that is the hardest to reconcile.
Charted: Changing Sentiments Towards AI in the Workplace
Opinions about using AI in the workplace have undergone a transformation from 2018, and so have the AI tools themselves.
Is generative AI the catalyst for the next industrial revolution? Or is it a flash in the pan? Is the entire workforce destined to become AI makers and managers?
It’s possible that one, all, or none of these options could be correct. But despite how fast large language models (LLMs) and tools have grown the popularity of artificial intelligence, one thing that is clear is that there are no quick or easy answers.
Amidst all this uncertainty, opinions on how we use AI in the workplace have evolved. Recent survey data from Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reveals how the labor force feels about AI in the workplace today, compared to how they felt five years ago.
The consultancy surveyed 13,000 people (C-suite leaders, managers, and frontline employees) in 18 different countries for the results, and divided their top two responses into five categories: Curiosity, Optimism, Concern, Confidence, and Indifference.
More Optimism, Less Caution Around AI
General curiosity about AI remains almost unchanged (at 60%) since 2018.
Meanwhile, despite how rapidly AI has advanced in the last five years, or perhaps because of it, more than 50% of workers surveyed are optimistic about AI’s impact on work, a 17 percentage point (p.p.) increase from 2018.
And though 30% remain concerned about AI, this fell 10 p.p. over the same time period.
|Sentiment towards AI||2018||2023|
Clearly, respondents perceive AI in the workplace far more positively now than they did in 2018. But that’s not all. The respondents’ confidence in how AI can influence their work has also increased (+5 p.p.) and indifference towards it has shrunk significantly (-7 p.p.).
Given the explosive growth in generative AI since the end of 2022—ChatGPT gets 1.8 billion visitors a month—it’s not surprising that workers are far more aware of AI compared to just five years ago.
Optimistic Leaders, Cautious Employees
As with any survey data, the devil is in the details. BCG notes that the sentiments between rungs on the company ladder differ sharply around AI.
While two-thirds of polled leaders are optimistic about AI in 2023, less than half of polled frontline employees shared the same sentiment. Frontline employees were also the biggest group that responded with concern (nearly 40%).
Importantly, frontline employees are almost as optimistic as they are concerned about AI in the workplace.
Managers were closer to leaders in their AI optimism, though some experts believe their jobs might actually be the most at risk of being replaced all together.
More Use, More Optimism Around AI
With ChatGPT reaching 100 million active users just two months after launching, it’s clear that more and more people are experimenting with generative AI.
In BCG’s poll, regular AI users—categorized as people who use it at least once a week for work—are nearly three times more optimistic than concerned about AI’s impact on their work in 2023.
|AI Use Level||Optimism||Concern|
Even rare users are two times more optimistic than cautious, with the non-user category registering the most concern.
Which brings us to who these regular users are.
A staggering 80% of the leaders polled say they’re already regular users of AI, compared to 46% managers and 20% frontline employees.
While eyebrow-raising, these figures are not surprising.
People in leadership positions tend to have a mandate to stay ahead of the curve on current business trends, and along with their less strictly defined roles, have more freedom to try, use, and adopt AI tools while they formulate policies for their workplace.
|Position||Regular User||Rare User||Nonuser|
At the same time, AI tools may not be green-lit en masse in many workplaces yet, preventing frontline employees from giving them a go.
So Is AI Coming For Jobs or Not?
Regardless of how definitively one can make a claim about artificial intelligence taking away people’s jobs, the survey respondents were unanimous that AI in the workplace will have some kind of an impact on their employment.
Slightly more than one-third felt that their job is in jeopardy as of 2023, while an overwhelming 86% polled said they needed training to adapt to how AI will transform their work.
With how fast the field is currently transforming, upskilling could be the safest path to follow as the AI revolution unfolds.
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