By Dr. Bjorn Mercer
Program Director, Communication, Philosophy, Religion, World Languages and the Arts, American Public University
An artificial intelligence (AI) crisis is upon us. Well, not just yet. But if you have been paying attention to the news or to former 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, “Technology can bring about new levels of prosperity, but it also holds the potential to disrupt our economies, ruin lives throughout several generations, and, if experts such as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk are to be believed, destroy humanity.”
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Will AI destroy humanity? Probably not. But it will disrupt entire industries and potentially ruin the careers of people who have not prepared for the coming change.
Which Jobs Are the Most Threatened by an AI Crisis?
One of the most important bits of information about AI is to know which jobs are in danger. As stated in The Economist, “AI will not cause mass unemployment, but it will speed up the existing trend of computer-related automation, disrupting labor markets just as technological change has done before, and requiring workers to learn new skills more quickly than in the past.”
You can find many articles that talk about jobs that are at risk. But Indeed has a report, The State of Opportunity, which includes a relatively long list of jobs and the risk of automation replacement.
In this report, there are 170 jobs cited, and they are rated low, medium, or high. Twenty-one of the jobs are at “high” risk, while another 15 are in the “medium” risk range. The high-risk jobs include:
- Technical writers
- Compensation and benefits managers
- Subway and streetcar operators
- Administrative services managers
- Medical and clinical laboratory technologists
- Credit analysts
- Accountants and auditors
- Avionics technicians
Why Certain Jobs Are at High Risk
Technical writers is one of the first job categories at high risk. This categorization is interesting, because being able to write well is one of the most important skills anyone can develop. However, when it comes to writing technical, software, engineering, or VCR manuals, your days might be numbered.
We are heading toward the day when AI will have the capability to take technical information from the engineers who create the products and write prose that is sequential and process-driven that helps people use their computers, home appliances, or Tesla autopilot. As stated in Medium: “Another thing to note is that such algorithms [written by AI] wouldn’t have to be 100% accurate to pose a threat to technical writers; they would just need to be good enough to require light editing.”
Compensation and benefits managers is another job listing that seems logical because HR is driven by rules and process and compensation, and benefits are relatively static throughout the year. They are in comparison to employee performance management, which is far more difficult because it is subjective and based on the person and situation.
World at Work says AI will help compensation and benefits management by fair compensation plans, the elimination of human bias, chat bots, reduction in employee turnover, and personalization of benefits offered.
World at Work did not comment on how AI might affect the number of compensation and benefits employees. But if a company uses a well-resourced compensation and third-party benefits, then it could automate many of its compensation and benefits needs. A company would need only a few employees to coordinate compensation and benefits throughout the year and use the additional third-party resources (chatbots, websites, and compensation data). Then, everyone will be happy!
That said, two of the alleged benefits, eliminating human bias and reducing employee turnover, are suspect. AI can still have human bias traits depending on who did the programming. Reducing employee turnover is a big promise that goes well beyond the purview of compensation and benefits.
Also on the list are subway and streetcar operators. To expand this job category, let’s include truck drivers, taxi drivers, and even ferry boat and ship operators. For many people, one of the ideal niches for AI is autonomous vehicles once the technology is refined and proven safe.
AI can drive a car, a subway train, a taxi or a container ship 24/7. For truck drivers alone, countless jobs could be in danger over the next decade.
As pointed out in a PBS Frontline program, companies could save up to one-third in human costs (people are expensive) and AI would be much safer than humans at the controls. Soon, the Yara Birkeland will be the world’s first fully electric and autonomous container vessel. When it comes to shipping, AI is already saving companies money on fuel efficiency.
How Jobs Will Be Replaced in the Future Is Complicated
When looking at reports like “The State of Opportunity,” the jobs at risk are logical choices. But how these jobs will be replaced over the next decade or decades is complicated.
The transition for most jobs to AI will be very slow; all truck drivers will not be replaced by an army of robots overnight. As The Economist noted, “Disappearing jobs can be a frightening concept and it’s impossible to know exactly which jobs are ‘safe’ — but everyone can prepare for the future by building up transferable, non-routine skills that can be applied across a wide array of occupations.”
In an excellent article in The Conversation, Australian authors Natalie Rens and Juxi Leitner discuss how to recognize, accept and mentally prepare for AI (we all have to go through these steps when confronted with change). In addition, they have some sound advice about practically preparing: “Be ready to upskill where possible. AI can learn very well but it cannot learn flexibly (yet)….If you allow AI to do the grit work, this can create opportunity to embrace the attributes that humans excel at, namely creativity, social intelligence and manipulation.”
Additional Resources that Look at Different Jobs and the Possibility of Automation Risk
In addition to “The State of Opportunity,” there are other resources that look at different jobs and the possibility of automation risk. A fun website, Will Robots Take My Job?, cites hundreds of jobs and their automation risk in a simple way. This website was based on a 2013 report, The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation? by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne.
Also available is “Advanced Analytics and AI: Impact, Implementation, and the Future of Work,” a book by Tony Boobier, published last year. Besides reviewing many aspects of artificial intelligence in the past, present, and possible future, the book lists over 600 jobs and their risk of automation.
How to Prepare for the AI Crisis
So what can you do to prepare for the AI crisis in relation to your job? Actually, a lot.
Individually, we each need to reflect on who we are, what job we have, what our skill sets are, where we are going in our careers, and how we work with and accept the realities of AI and machine learning.
In addition, we need to ask ourselves a few key questions:
- What skills can I acquire/develop that cannot be duplicated by a machine?
- What interpersonal skills can I provide that are unique and holistically applicable to my career?
- Is my current career safe or do I need to transition to something new?
If you are able to honestly reflect about your status as an individual and strategically answer the questions, then this can that lead real change. You will then be in a position to start preparing for the coming AI crisis.
About the Author
Dr. Bjorn Mercer is a Program Director at American Public University. He holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Missouri State University, a master’s and doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, and an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix. He writes about leadership, management and why the humanities and liberal arts are critical to career success. Dr. Mercer also writes children’s music in his spare time.
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