According to one recent analysis, it’s only a matter of time before robots and artificial intelligence claim the work of millions of Americans. The World Economic Forum figures more than seven million jobs could be lost to automation by 2020, with around two million gained. That would put over five million people out of work in the next few years.
It’s a good thing then that the White House started taking AI seriously this year. In May it announced a series of public workshops and a new Subcommittee on Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence to discuss and monitor the technology. The subcommittee published a report, Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence, in October, in which it stressed the economic implications of AI and urged a follow-up report by year’s end.
That report — Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy — was released on December 20. It describes how AI-driven automation will change our economy, offers a few scenarios policymakers should prepare for, and outlines some strategies to help the nation segue into an AI economy.
The report begins with an optimistic perspective: AI will have a strong positive impact on the overall growth of productivity. After all, machines don’t eat, don’t sleep, and they can be relatively cheap to employ. AI does simple work well and makes hard work easier.
Next, the report suggests that the skills needed to stand out in the job market will change. Today’s algorithms excel at simple, systematic tasks, and they’re growing more sophisticated by the day. If we can program an extraordinary AI accountant, then we should reconsider training those skills in humans. Specifically, the report recommends an emphasis on higher-level technical skills.
The third effect laid out in the report states that AI will impact every industry but the effects won’t be balanced. Each sector will experience different changes in wages, education requirements, locations, and job types.
As such, the report advises a “churning of the job market,” as some positions vanish and others emerge.
Lastly the report urges policymakers to prepare for short and long-term job loss for potentially millions of Americans.
The report also lays out three strategies for addressing these scenarios, including investing in AI for its benefits, training Americans for the jobs of the future, and helping workers make the transition to new positions.
There’s expert consensus behind these predictions, but no one knows for certain the degree to which they’ll occur and what the secondary effects will be. One thing is for sure though: AI is here and it’s here to stay.