by Rani Moller, Vox.com
The robot revolution has long been thought of as apocalyptic for blue-collar workers whose tasks are manual and repetitive. A widely cited 2017 McKinsey study said 50 percent of work activities were already automatable using current technology and those activities were most prevalent in manufacturing. New data suggests white-collar workers — even those whose work presumes more analytic thinking, higher paychecks, and relative job security — may not be safe from the relentless drumbeat of automation.
That’s because artificial intelligence — powerful computer tech like machine learning that can make human-like decisions and use real-time data to learn and improve — has white-collar work in its sights, according to a new study by Stanford University economist Michael Webb and published by Brookings Institution. The scope of jobs potentially impacted by AI reaches far beyond white-collar jobs like telemarketing, a field that has already been decimated by bots, into jobs previously thought to be squarely in the province of humans: knowledge workers like chemical engineers, physicists, and market-research analysts.
The new research looks at the overlap between the subject-noun pairs in AI patents and job descriptions to see which jobs are most likely to be affected by AI technology. So for example, job descriptions for market-research analyst — a relatively common position with a high rate of AI exposure — share numerous terms in common with existing patents, which similarly seek to “analyze data,” “track marketing,” and “identify markets.”
It’s more forward-looking than other studies in that it analyzes patents for technology that might not yet be fully developed or deployed.
Typically, estimates of automation effects on the workforce, which vary widely depending on the study, have focused on what jobs could be automated using existing technologies. The findings have generally been most damning for lower-wage, lower-education workers, where robotics and software have often eliminated part or all of certain jobs.
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