Jobs Requiring Bachelor's or Master's Degrees Will Be Most Affected by AI Tech

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Nov 22, 2019

A recent Brookings Institute study says that the jobs that will be most affected by machine learning and other artificial intelligence applications are mostly white collar professions requiring a bachelor's or master's degree at the higher end of the income scale. The study stressed that this does not signify that AI has already made inroads into the named occupation, or that it will necessarily replace work or jobs once it does. Instead, the study has measured which particular occupations would have some kind of impact can be expected, whether positive or negative.

The study itself used its own form of AI to reach its conclusions: Researchers used machine learning in the form of natural language processing to quantify the overlap between text from patents filed for AI technologies, and job descriptions from the U.S. Department of Labor’s O*NET database. Key to this was "verb-object" pairings. For example, a job description might include the words "diagnose disease" which would match a patent using a phrase "method for diagnosing disease." 

What the analysis found was that AI exposure will be mostly among better-educated, better-paid workers, rather than lower-wage, less educated workers who were more exposed to potential disruption from robotics and software. 

"At the high end of AI involvement, for example, are numerous well-paid occupations that had relatively low exposure in our earlier, all-encompassing automation analysis," said the study. "They range from market research analysts and sales managers to programmers, management analysts, and engineers. Often analytic or supervisory, these roles appear heavily involved in pattern-oriented or predictive work, and may therefore be especially susceptible to the data-driven inroads of AI, even though they seemed relatively immune in earlier analyses."

Broken down, the five occupations that face the most disruption from AI, from highest to lowest, are market research analysts and marketing specialists, followed by sales managers, then computer programmers, then personal financial advisers and, finally, management analysts. One effect of this is that men have higher exposure than women, given "their over-representation in both analytic-technical and professional roles (as well as production)." As a result, male workers' aggregate AI exposure is higher than that of any other group. 

The report outlined three ways a profession might be affected by AI. One is substitution, which is generally what people tend to think about when they consider AI risk: machines replacing humans. However the report also said another possibility is complementarity, when AI enhances human labor rather than replacing it entirely. Finally, AI might simply create new work for humans, in a similar way that more cars on the road means more demand for pumping stations and roadside restaurants. 

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