Robots aren’t replacing everyone, but a quarter of U.S. jobs will be severely disrupted as artificial intelligence accelerates the automation of existing work, according to a new Brookings Institution report.
The report, published Thursday, says roughly 36 million Americans hold jobs with “high exposure” to automation — meaning at least 70 percent of their tasks could soon be performed by machines using current technology. Among those most likely to be affected are cooks, waiters and others in food services; short-haul truck drivers; and clerical office workers.
“That population is going to need to upskill, reskill or change jobs fast,” said Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings and lead author of the report.
Muro said the timeline for the changes could be “a few years or it could be two decades.” But it’s likely that automation will happen more swiftly during the next economic downturn. Businesses are typically eager to implement cost-cutting technology as they lay off workers.
Some economic studies have found similar shifts toward automating production happened in the early part of previous recessions — and may have contributed to the “jobless recovery” that followed the 2008 financial crisis.
But with new advances in artificial intelligence, it’s not just industrial and warehouse robots that will alter the American workforce. Self-checkout kiosks and computerized hotel concierges will do their part.
Most jobs will change somewhat as machines take over routine tasks, but a majority of U.S. workers will be able to adapt to that shift without being displaced.
The changes will hit hardest in smaller cities, especially those in the heartland and Rust Belt and in states like Indiana and Kentucky, according to the report by the Washington think tank. They will also disproportionately affect the younger workers who dominate food services and other industries at highest risk for automation.