The FINANCIAL — About one in four U.S. workers (26%) say it is at least somewhat likely that their job will be eliminated by new technology, automation, artificial intelligence or robots within the next 20 years. About one in eight workers (13%) say this will happen within the next five years.
These worker assessments of the probability that their jobs will be “technologically outsourced” are based on interviews conducted from April 27-May 4 with more than 1,100 U.S. workers. A randomly selected half of the sample was asked about the threat to their jobs in the next five years, while the other half was asked about their jobs in 20 years.
As might be expected, concern was greater for the longer time horizon than the shorter one. From one perspective, the 26% of those who say it is very or somewhat likely that their jobs will be eliminated within 20 years represents a substantial share of the workforce. Looked at differently, almost half of workers — 45% — say it is not at all likely that their job will be replaced by new technology, automation, robots or artificial intelligence in the next 20 years, according to Gallup.
There are few significant differences in these attitudes by age, with younger workers about as likely as those who are older to perceive their jobs as threatened by technology going forward.
In the short term, workers who are college graduates are significantly less likely than workers who are not graduates to say their jobs will be eliminated in five years — 5% for the former and 16% for the latter. But projections at the 20-year point are not significantly different. Gallup did not collect detailed information on job type to be able to assess whether workers in certain roles appear more threatened than those in others.
The workplace has already seen many changes in recent years. Younger workers increasingly shift from job to job over their careers rather than working for one employer; more workers are doing their jobs remotely; and “on demand” work in the gig economy is rising. The impact of artificial intelligence, automation and robots presents yet another challenge for workers and organizations.
Workplace experts, technology experts and workers themselves do not know with certainty which jobs will be displaced by technology, artificial intelligence and robots in the years ahead. Ten years ago, few taxi drivers probably thought their jobs would be displaced by the software-enabled Uber car service, nor did long-haul truck drivers most likely think about the possibility that they would be replaced by autonomous, self-driving trucks.
With no definitive expert projections on how quickly various jobs will be made obsolete because of technology, it is unclear whether workers are overestimating or underestimating the actual threat technology poses to their own jobs.
The effect of artificial intelligence, automation and robots in the workplace is no longer merely speculative, as reports increasingly suggest these processes are already taking away what used to be considered stable jobs. From truck drivers to writers (artificial intelligence) to surgeons (robotic operating machines) to factory workers (assembly line robots), these trends are unfolding in workplaces across the country. A recent report by Fast Company magazine listed insurance underwriters and claims representatives, bank tellers, financial analysts, construction workers, farmers and taxi drivers among the jobs likely to be replaced by advancements in technology in the future.
The questions reviewed here focus only on the downside of job losses technology causes. But even as jobs are lost, companies create new jobs as they look for workers who can push through advances in technology, research artificial intelligence, and build and program robots. Throughout history, as jobs are lost to the inevitable impact of new technologies, workers have found ways to remain employed in new fields, making the net impact of this process even more challenging to calibrate.
What is certain: Workers’ and employers’ ability to adapt to the accelerated disruption caused by technology will be a major factor in the nation’s economic progress in the years ahead.