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Do You Work at a Job That AI Might Snatch Away?

Some occupations are more ‘exposed’ to artificial intelligence than others, Pew report says

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The fear that artificial intelligence (AI) will take away the livelihoods of older adults has been expressed often since ChatGPT and other generative AI chatbots emerged in recent months.

Of course, not all jobs are the same, nor is the potential threat AI technology may pose to various occupations. Nearly 1 in 5 workers in the United States have jobs likely to have the most exposure to AI, according to a July 26 report from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, which is careful to avoid equating exposure with actual risk of job loss.

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Budget analysts, data entry personnel, tax preparers, technical writers and web developers are among the jobs in the high-exposure category, Pew says. Jobs rated as less exposed include the hands-on work of barbers, child care workers, dishwashers, firefighters and pipe layers.

Several other positions fall somewhere in the middle and include chief executives, fundraisers, interior designers, sales managers and veterinarians.

Occupations where AI can perform the most important tasks a job requires with little or no human intervention were considered more exposed. For example, AI could replace, at least to a degree, tasks such as “getting information,” “analyzing data or information” and “working with computers,” the study found.

Generative AI can create conversational answers in text, images or audio to questions it is asked, generally based on its database of knowledge. But early use of generative AI shows that it also can make things up while sounding authoritative.

Less exposed jobs are those where AI alone cannot “assist and care for others” or “perform general physical activities.” A caregiver, both paid or a family member, fits this description.

Will AI replace me at work?

To determine high, medium or low exposure, Pew rated a set of 41 job-related work activities considered common to all occupations. But Pew punted on the critical question of whether exposure to AI will lead to job losses or perhaps job gains. The reason: AI could either replace or complement what workers do.

“This is relatively new technology,” says Pew senior researcher Rakesh Kochhar, who wrote the report. “We don’t know how it’s going to play out.”

Powerful chatbots could replace customer service agents. Or instead, AI could help human agents bolster productivity.

A March research report from financial services company Goldman Sachs echoed some of the uncertainty.

“If generative AI delivers on its promised capabilities, the labor market could face significant disruption,” the report read. “Using data on occupational tasks in both the U.S. and Europe, we find that roughly two-thirds of current jobs are exposed to some degree of AI automation, and that generative AI could substitute up to one-fourth of current work.”

But Goldman Sachs did not predict fewer jobs overall.

“The good news is that worker displacement from automation has historically been offset by the creation of new jobs, and the emergence of new occupations following technological innovations accounts for the vast majority of long-run employment growth.” So the recipe for continued employment in the era of AI is to stay current on technology and trends in your field. Your job may evolve or you may evolve into another job.

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Worth noting: In its report, Pew did not consider how robots, which can do physical and repetitive labor, may affect future jobsAI may also assist job seekers with their résumés and cover letters.

Pew posed two major questions in assessing AI’s effect: 

1. What is the likelihood that AI may substitute for or complement a work activity now?

2. For a job in total, how important are activities with high or low exposure to AI?

Among the findings:

  • Almost a quarter of the workforce, 23 percent, are likely to work in jobs that have less exposure to AI than work in those with more exposure, 19 percent.
  • College graduates, Asians, women and well-paid employees work mostly in more exposed jobs.
  • Jobs that require more critical thinking, math, science, writing and other analytical skills also have more exposure, Kochhar says. Jobs that rely more on mechanical skills tend to have less exposure.

Age is not much of a factor

Younger workers and those with less formal education are the least exposed to AI, the study found. But otherwise, age doesn’t play much of a factor. Roughly 1 in 5 workers in all age groups 25 and older are likely to see similar levels of exposure.

Ironically, many people in jobs with more exposure are less concerned about their own risks from expanding AI, another recent Pew study found. About a third of workers surveyed in the information and technology fields believe AI will help more than hurt in the next 20 years, compared to 16 percent of all U.S. adults.

The bulk of the Pew report is based on the Labor Department's Occupational Information Network and Bureau of Labor Statistics' Current Population Survey as well as the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey.

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