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AI’s Effect on Jobs Might Not be What You Think

AI’s Effect on Jobs Might Not be What You Think

Nov. 25, 2019
A new Brookings Institution study concludes that AI’s distinctive capabilities suggest that high-wage occupations will be some of the most exposed.

It’s impossible to ignore the fact that advances in artificial intelligence (AI) is changing how we do our current jobs. But what has captured even more interest is how the increasing capability of this technology will affect future jobs.

In trying to determine the specific effects on which jobs and which sectors, many studies have been undertaking but it’s hard to capture this information.

To add further research to this topic the Brookings Institution issued a report on Nov. 20, presenting a new method of analyzing this issue. 

“By employing a novel technique developed by Stanford University Ph.D. candidate Michael Webb, the new report establishes job exposure levels by analyzing the overlap between AI-related patents and job descriptions,” the report said. “In this way, the research homes in on the impacts of AI specifically and does it by studying empirical statistical associations as opposed to expert forecasting.”

The technique Webb used was able to quantify the overlap between the text of AI patents and the text of job descriptions that can identify the kinds of tasks and occupations likely to be affected by particular AI capabilities.

“We find that Webb’s AI measures depict a very different range of impacts on the workforce than those from robotics and software. Where the robotics and software that dominate the automation field seem to mostly to involve “routine or rule-based, tasks and thus lower-or-middle pay roles, AI’s distinctive capabilities suggest that high-wage occupations will be some of the most exposed,” the report noted.

Using patents are “useful here because they provide timely predictions of the commercial relevance of specific technological applications. Occupational descriptions are also useful because they provide detailed insight into economic activities at the scale of the whole economy."


  1. AI could affect work in virtually every occupational group.
  2. Better-paid, white-collar occupations may be the most exposed to AI, as well as some manufacturing and agriculture positions.
  3. Business, finance and tech industries will be more exposed, as will natural resource and production industries.
  4. AI looks most destined to affect men, prime-age workers, and white and Asian-American workers.
  5. Bigger, higher-tech metro areas and communities heavily involved in manufacturing are likely to experience the most AI-related disruption

Based on these conclusions the report says that “we have a lot to learn about AI, and that these are extremely early days in our inquiries. What’s coming may not resemble what we have experienced or expect to experience.

“Society should get ready for a very different pattern of impact than those that accompanied the broad adoption of robotics and software. While the last waves of automation led to increases of inequity and wage polarization, it’s not clear that AI will have the same effects.”

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