"Accelerating artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities will enable automation of some tasks that have long required human labor," notes the White House report in its opening paragraph. "These transformations will open up new opportunities for individuals, the economy, and society, but they have the potential to disrupt the current livelihoods of millions of Americans. Whether AI leads to unemployment and increases in inequality over the long-run depends not only on the technology itself but also on the institutions and policies that are in place." How strongly will AI disrupt the US workforce? Is this time different from past technological disruptions?
The government can support the development of artificial intelligence by helping educate the public on the technology's potential applications and establishing an ethics policy on its use, several experts told the White House in response to a recent call for public input on future of AI. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy submitted a request for information earlier this summer to help develop its stance on artificial intelligence, and several organizations responded to the call by outlining benefits and the challenges they believe researchers and policymakers will encounter as AI develops. The government needs to educate the public on artificial intelligence and dispel theories that it will lead to a robot apocalypse, Joshua New, policy analyst for the Center for Data Innovation, told FedScoop. "Destigmatizing it in the public sphere, saying, 'This is like a great technological benefit, we should be pursuing it aggressively,' I think that's the most important thing that the government can do," New said. The Center for Data Innovation responded to the RFI by noting that government should continue to talk about the benefits of AI and attempt to dispel fears of the technology.
There are lots of economic opportunities coming thanks to gains in artificial intelligence, the White House said in a report today, but that same report warns that millions of jobs could be displaced while the technology improves. Artificial intelligence, the report notes, accelerates trends seen since the industrial revolution, as people lose jobs to automation and are forced to learn new skills to find new career paths. How fast we'll see those impacts is the question. The report notes that researchers' estimates about jobs threatened ranges widely from 9 to 47 percent, and notes that because "AI is not a single technology, but rather a collection of technologies that are applied to specific tasks, the effects of AI will be unevenly felt throughout the economy." That said, the general assessment is that the jobs hardest hit are those that are more easily automated, which disproportionately impacts people with less educational attainment.
Government agencies continue to face a shortage of the IT skills they increasingly need to serve the public and safeguard government data. And with the ongoing pandemic, it is critical that agencies give longer term thought to their IT skills development strategies. In a recent FedScoop survey, 8 in 10 federal CIOs, budget officials and human capital managers surveyed said they are moderately or highly concerned about being able to replenish their IT staffs with a younger generation of talent that is trained in these modern technologies. And 46% indicated that a key opportunity to improve IT workforce development lies in prioritizing funding to support upskilling or reskilling opportunities. That's one reason agencies should lean on data analytics tools to establish more proactive skills development programs, says Brandon Peay, executive vice president of skills at Pluralsight, a company that provides online skill development training.
I am often asked about artificial intelligence and the future of work. My answer is that A.I. will change 100% of current jobs. It will change the job of a software developer, of a customer service agent, of a professional driver. And it will change my job as the CEO of one of the biggest technology companies in the world. Yet notice my choice of words: A.I. will change jobs but it won't replace all of them.