A.I. and high-paying white-collar employment are headed for a collision

A.I. is headed straight for high-paying white-collar jobs with unknown results. It’s not a new idea that technological progress can change the job market.

For example, robots and automation are commonplace on plant floors and assembly lines. Experts say it has had different effects on the workplace, like getting rid of, changing, improving, or making new jobs.
Experts said that artificial intelligence, which is still pretty new and changes quickly, will do the same thing. But this technology will likely help a different part of the American workforce than in the past.

“A.I. is different from other technologies that have come out in the last century and a half,” said Rakesh Kochhar, an expert on job trends and senior researcher at the nonpartisan Pew Research Centre. “It is spreading from the factory floors to the offices, where white-collar, higher-paid workers tend to be. Is it going to be a force that moves slowly or a tsunami? Kochhar said. “We don’t know,” he said.

A.I. is made to think like a human, or, in other words, to imitate how humans think. Kochhar said that it lets computers and tools do things on their own.

In November 2022, the San Francisco company OpenAI released ChatGPT, an A.I. chatbot that quickly gained popularity. Millions of people used the program to write essays, song lyrics, and computer code, which led to a national discussion; this is different from robots, which usually do physical things like lift or move items.

Kochhar found in a new Pew study that 19% of jobs in the U.S. have a lot to do with A.I. The study uses the word “exposure” because it’s not clear what the effects of A.I. might be, whether they’re good or bad.

Jobs like budget analysts, data entry keyers, tax preparers, expert writers, and web developers are in the high-exposure group. They often need more analytical skills, so the study said that A.I. could replace or help with their “most important” job tasks.

The study said that most people who work with A.I. are women, white or Asian, make more money, and have college degrees. Cory Stahle, an economist at Indeed, said, “There could be some job displacement.” A.I. could, however, “open up new jobs we don’t even know about yet. The jury is still out,” he said. The Pew study says that 23% of American workers have little experience with A.I.

These workers, like barbers, cleaners, firefighters, pipelayers, nannies, and other people who care for children, usually do general physical tasks that A.I. can’t easily do (at least not yet). The remaining jobs, or 58%, are exposed to A.I. differently.

Moving Markets

The Pew study, which used data from the Occupational Information Network from the U.S. Department of Labour, found that workers in the most exposed jobs made an average of $33 per hour in 2022, while those in the least exposed positions made an average of $20 per hour.

Harry Holzer, a professor at Georgetown University and former chief economist at the U.S. Labour Department, says that people have been afraid of technology and its power to take away jobs since the Industrial Revolution.

“So far, most of these fears have been wrong, but not all,” Holzer wrote not long ago. Holzer, who wrote the 2022 book “Shifting Paradigms” about the digital economy, said that technology often creates as many jobs as it takes away over time.

Some workers can get more done with the help of technology. That lowers the prices and costs of goods and services, which makes people “feel richer” and spend more, which, he said, helps create new jobs.

Gene Kindberg-Hanlon, a World Bank economist, says that new technologies have a short-term negative effect on net jobs in advanced economies like the U.S. This causes overall employment to drop by two percentage points. He found that the impact was “modestly positive” after four years.

But some people “lose out,” Holzer said. The majority of the individuals in this group are workers who face direct competition from machines and end up fighting.

“Since the 1980s, digital automation has made the labour market even more unequal because many production and office workers have lost their jobs or seen their wages go down,” Holzer said.

He said business people usually win because they make more money and need less help. The “new automation” of the future, which could include A.I., “has the potential to cause much more worker displacement and inequality than older generations of automation,” he said. For example, millions of car drivers, retail workers, lawyers, accountants, finance specialists, health care workers, and many others could lose their jobs.

It will also cause new problems and needs, such as retraining or reskilling. Holzer said this could mean that low-income workers must find child care. Stahle said that the data shows that there has been a “pretty significant uptick” in the number of companies looking for workers with A.I. skills.

In July 2018, about 20 out of every million job postings on Indeed asked for some A.I. skill. As of July 2023, that number had grown to 328 jobs per million.

Stahle said this is still a tiny part of all job ads on Indeed, but it is a significant change from “basically zero” five years ago. He also said that most of the growth has happened in the last year because ChatGPT has become so famous recently. Stahle said that most of the growth has been in two groups: those who make A.I. technology and those who use it in artistic or marketing jobs.

He also said that jobs in the second group would be exciting to watch to see how A.I. might change jobs as different as marketing, sales, customer service, law, and real estate.

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