Automation and You

It’s not unusual to see the terms “automation” and “artificial intelligence” used interchangeably, but the truth is that the two aren’t synonyms. Simply put, automation is technology that allows an action to occur with minimal or no human assistance. Think robots on assembly lines, grabbing, swiveling, inserting interchangeable parts. Those robots are automated; they perform their tasks without a human in control.

Now, imagine if those robots could simulate human thinking—if they could problem solve, making informed decisions based on available data. That’s what artificial intelligence is: systems or machines that are capable of thinking like a human being.

Automated machines have been replacing human jobs for decades. Jobs that consist of repetitive actions — inserting a particular part into a particular socket, stapling packets of paper, various manufacturing tasks — are significantly at risk of being erased by machines. According to a 2019 report from Oxford Economics, by 2030, 8.5% of the global manufacturing workforce could be replaced by machines.

Communities with largely lower-skilled and lower-educated workers are the most vulnerable to seeing severe job loss. A 2019 report from the Brooking’s Institute found that 47% of Latino or Hispanic workers were in jobs that could be partially or entirely automated, followed by American Indians at 45%, Black workers at 44%, white workers at 40%, and Asian Americans at 39%.

Advances in artificial intelligence mean that even more jobs are at risk. If automation tends to focus on blue collar employment, then artificial intelligence has white collar employment in its sights. Instead of replacing repetitive tasks, artificial intelligence could replace jobs that require planning, strategizing, or problem-solving—in other words, managerial roles.

For some countries, this isn’t necessary a bad thing, as national safeguards and robust welfare programs can help those affected by technological unemployment find their footing. It remains to be seen how the United States will handle this drastic change.

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