You’re Fired? How AI Could Change the Labor Landscape

Getty Images

Machines replacing humans in the workplace is not new, but today’s advances in artificial intelligence could affect hundreds of millions of jobs.

I wrote an article in 2021, Dying Careers You May Want to Steer Clear Of, about how jobs will start to disappear because smart machines are becoming smarter. Since that article, advances in artificial intelligence have exploded, making AI a possible threat to the job security of hundreds of millions of workers. Let’s examine what’s going on and whether you should update your résumé in case even savvier computers gobble up your job.

The threat of your job becoming obsolete may feel like a new thing and a slap in the face. It’s not. This phenomenon has happened throughout history. The earliest example of a machine that could replace workers, that I could find, was in 1589 when William Lee invented the stocking frame knitting machine.

Lee thought that workers would be thrilled to no longer have to sit in drafty rooms huddled together while knitting by hand, only to develop stooped shoulders and arthritis. He was wrong.

Lee sought a patent for his revolutionary knitting machine and even invited Queen Elizabeth I to view his invention. The queen was more concerned about all of the knitters who could be laid off and refused to grant Lee a patent. According to Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, authors of the 2012 book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, the queen said, “Thou aimest high, Master Lee. Consider thou what the invention could do to my poor subjects. It would assuredly bring to them ruin by depriving them of employment, thus making them beggars.”

We know that progress is impossible to stop, even for the queen.

What industries could become obsolete in the future?

Acknowledging that no one knows for sure what professions will or will not exist or how they will change over time, I think, in general, that the upper middle class is about to get slammed. Frankly, most white-collar employees involved in cognitive jobs should be worried. According to a paper from the University of Oxford, “The Future of Employment,” about 47% of total U.S. employment is at risk. It’s not just that actual robotic machines are more efficient, it’s also that our computers are becoming way smarter.

AI could take your job

Goldman Sachs estimates around 300 million jobs could be affected by generative AI. This could cause a seismic disruption, with an estimated two-thirds of jobs in the U.S. and Europe subject to some form of automation. So you might want to think about updating your skills and your résumé if you are in any of these professions:

  • Office and administrative support

  • Legal

  • Architecture

  • Engineering

  • Business and financial operations

  • Sales

  • Education

  • Arts and design

  • Travel agents

  • Truck drivers

  • Medicine

  • Librarian/archivist

  • Sports referees

  • Factory workers

More depressing news

Quantum computing is just around the corner. It is the new-new in the computer world. It can address complicated problems with many factors and therefore develop some outcomes more quickly than a regular computer. I think it will turn jobs like Bitcoin mining on its head, because it can solve math problems really quickly. If you just have computer skills on your résumé, you may also be out of luck, because these new quantum computing skills are unique.

Jobs that may exist

I’m confident that machines won’t replace the jobs that need a human touch. Machines can be great at performing certain functions, but they don’t have empathy, intuition or the ability to make a human connection. That means that if you work in health care, counseling or live customer service, your job may be safe. Wouldn’t it be great to also dream of a time, after an annoying bout with machine prompts, when you could talk to a real person?

The crossroads of the ‘Oppenheimer’ effect

Let’s now complicate matters further. Just as the queen and others have struggled with the ethics and morality of putting workers out of work, let’s ponder the morality of possibly creating science that can end the world.

AI has caused many to become bereaved with the thought that it could lead to the military destruction of the world. The movie Oppenheimer (not to be confused with Barbie) highlights this quandary. Alexander Karp, CEO of Palantir Technologies, discussed in The New York Times the moral judgments faced by Robert Oppenheimer, who is often referred to as the “father of the atomic bomb.”

Oppenheimer is quoted to have said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it … and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.” That may also be the debate with AI. But just as with the atomic bomb, do we let our enemies develop it first?

We did not shy away from building the automobile, which has led to horrific traffic deaths. We make laws and other protections, like seat belts and airbags, that protect the populace. Can we do the same with AI?

This, like my previous article, can make for great dinner conversation with your kids. Ask them what they see in the future and what jobs they think will disappear and be created. Ask them what may come of the new “technical” brainpower we can build. How can it be used for good, and what should we do to prevent it from being used for evil?

Part of being a parent is to not only help our kids to be resilient when it comes to change, but to also help them understand some of the consequences, as well.

Remember the words of Albert Einstein: “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”

related content