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September 7, 2020

The Future of Labor in an AI World


What will you be doing on Labor Day in 2030? How about five years from today? Will your job still be available? What skills will your employer demand? Nobody can forecast the future with total certainty, but a conservative reading of the workplace tea leaves suggests labor is in for a bumpy ride as technological advances make some jobs obsolete, while opening up new opportunities.

It’s a safe bet that people employed in the collection and analysis of data will be in demand in 2030. In fact, given the trajectory of big data analytics and artificial intelligence and where we are today, chances seem good that the world will need even more data scientists and engineers a decade from now.

That’s good for most Datanami readers, who (we dare assume) are involved in building data analytics and AI systems. But if you (or your cousin) happen to be employed in some other area, get ready for disruption, as there will be plenty of jobs lost due to automation at the hands of software-based machine learning systems and hardware-based robotics infused with AI.

Take self-driving cars, for example. Approximately five million Americans drive for a living, but these jobs will begin to disappear once autonomous cars and trucks hit the road.

Autonomous semi-trucks have already shown what they can do on public roads, albeit with human drivers serving as backup in the cab. But next year, they will be rolling down highways in full autonomous mode, according to Chuck Price, the chief product officer of TuSimple, an American-Chinese company based in San Diego, California, that develops software systems for self-driving trucks.

Self-driving trucks will disrupt an $800-billion industry in the U.S. and likely cost millions of jobs (Vitpho/Shutterstock)

“We believe we’ll be able to do our first driver-out demonstration runs on public highways in 2021,” Price told CBS News’ 60 Minutes in a piece that aired last month. From there, it’s just a matter of time (and investment) before the country’s 3.5 million truckers will be checking help wanted ads instead of weather and traffic sites.

The same types deep learning advances that allow cars and trucks to “see” around them and make good decisions based on sensory data are also being used to create chatbots that can read and hear, and converse in a human way.

Advances in natural language processing (NLP) are leading to chatbots that are sophisticated enough to take over for human workers in fields like telemarketing, sales, and computer support specialists, all of which are threatened by AI.

Accountants, factory workers, and radiologists are also at risk of being replaced by AI-based systems, according to Kai-Fu Lee, the CEO and founder of a Beijing-based venture capital firm that has invested in hundreds of AI firms over the years.

In his 2018 book, “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order,” Lee, who has been dubbed the “Oracle of AI,” said that much of the abstract AI research work has already been done, and that it’s now just a matter of implementing the algorithms.

“Based on the current trends in technology advancement and adoption,” he wrote, “I predict that within 15 years, artificial intelligence will technically be able to replace around 40% to 50% of jobs in the United States.”

Bookkeepers and bank tellers are also projected to suffer job losses at the hand of AI-powered automation, according to a 2018 report on jobs in the financial sector assembled by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

AI’s Additive Properties

However, the news is not all grim and bare IT. Some positions will increase in spite of AI, including financial managers and personal financial advisors, which the BLS projects will increase by 19% and 15% respectively between 2016 and 2026.

Some jobs stand to benefit and grow from AI (LeoWolfert/Shutterstock)

“Because the complexity of risk management makes it difficult to automate, artificial intelligence is expected to be a complementary tool, rather than a substitute, for risk managers—unlike the situation with many other occupations,” the BLS writes in its 2018 report.

Cybersecurity is another area where workers stand to benefit from AI, rather than lose employment due to it. A recent survey by WhiteHat Security found that more than 70% of respondents agreed that “AI-based tools made their cybersecurity teams more efficient by eliminating more than 55% of mundane tasks,” as WhiteHat’s Bryan Becker reported in July.


Then there are all the new jobs that we haven’t thought up yet. According to a 2018 report from Dell Technologies that was written by the Institute For The Future, 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet.

“The pace of change will be so rapid that people will learn ‘in the moment’ using new technologies such as augmented reality and virtual reality,” the IFTF report stated. “The ability to gain new knowledge will be more valuable than the knowledge itself.”


Leo SaLemi, a George Brown College professor who goes by the nom de guerre “The Simple Technologist” on LinkedIn, says jobs with titles like “blockchain engineer” will emerge to fill gaps in the workforce created by the advance of technology.

“According to the experts in this space the Blockchain Engineer needs to be comfortable with learning as they go since this is a new and emerging field with very little formal training around,” SaLemi writes in a LinkedIn post. “A Blockchain Engineer will need to be a hybrid of a junior economist, an API developer, a data geek and auditor.”

It’s clear that emerging AI technologies will be a disruptive influence on the world’s labor markets, just as technological breakthroughs have in the past. White-collar jobs that require repetitive cognitive abilities, such as accounting and radiology, are at risk of being replaced by software-based AI bots and robotic process automation. Similarly, blue-collar jobs, such as truck drivers and warehouse workers, are also at risk of being replaced by actual robots infused with AI.

But the disruption will also create many more employment opportunities, and not just for the folks who develop the AI technology.

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