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At one time, no one had ever heard of a telegraph operator. An electrician. Auto mechanic. TV producer. X-ray technician. Software developer. Webmaster. Cybersecurity specialist.
Advancements in technology have always spawned new kinds of jobs while rendering other ones obsolete. Artificial intelligence will be no exception. Right now, we don't fully know what those jobs will be. But that hasn't stopped job seekers from trying to find out.
Prognosticators say artificial intelligence will likely have a similar impact on the labor market — and workers want to get in on the ground floor. But it’s clear that even employers don’t know what those jobs are. Not yet, at least.
To be clear, automation and, to a certain extent, AI have been part of the labor market for quite some time. Who among us hasn’t had an infuriating exchange with a chatbot? But interest in employment related to AI has skyrocketed in the past two years. Searches for AI-related jobs on the employment listings website Indeed have increased 8,200% since March 2021, according to the company. But AI-related job postings by employers have only increased 29.8%.
“I think it captures that kind of moment that we're in right now where there are a lot of new possibilities opening up and there's a lot of uncertainty about where it's going,” says Trey Causey, head of AI ethics at Indeed. But, he adds, “The interest is undeniable.”
Workers want to ride the next job wave
Indeed isn’t the only site seeing more searches geared toward AI. Daniel Zhao, lead economist at the job search website Glassdoor, has also seen an uptick, which he says is driven largely by the novelty aspect of AI and the possibilities it holds for workers.
“AI is poised to have a significant impact on the job market, and it doesn't require being a Ph.D. in computer science in order to actually work at a company that is taking advantage of AI,” says Zhao. “So there are definitely opportunities out there for people who are interested in this space and who feel passionately about the technology.”
It’s no wonder workers are beginning to test the waters of AI, since recent studies have shown that most jobs will likely be impacted by the technology. And that’s pretty much what most workers are counting on. A March 26 report by the investment banking company Goldman Sachs found about two-thirds of all jobs are likely to be impacted by AI in some way. And in an April 20 Pew Research Center report, more than half of Americans surveyed said they would classify the impact of AI on both the workplace and the economy over a 20-year period as “major.”
A “major” impact on work was also asserted in a March 22 report by the IT consulting company Accenture. It said generative AI — as in, language-learning models like ChatGPT — is set to “fundamentally transform everything from science to business to health care, for instance, to society itself.” It also argues that AI has the potential to reinvent every role in every company as “humans working with AI co-pilots becomes the norm.”
It’s probable that certain jobs will be replaced entirely by AI, but it will largely depend on what functions can be replaced. Goldman Sachs finds that jobs in which 50% of the work could be automated are more likely to be supplanted by AI. For example, jobs that require physical labor or care are unlikely to be replaced, while jobs that require coding or number-crunching are less likely to need human operators.
But don’t fear the robot takeover just yet. The Goldman Sachs report from March also asserted that any displacement caused by AI would likely be offset by the creation of new occupations, which usually happens in the labor market during periods of technological change.
Employers are looking to adopt and adapt AI
Employers want to incorporate AI into their workplaces even if they’re not quite sure how. The World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2023” released on April 30 found 75% of companies surveyed expect to adopt AI. And a roundup of first-quarter earnings calls for S&P 500 companies by the financial news company Bloomberg found 1,072 mentions of artificial intelligence.
It does seem like employers are figuring it out already. Among job postings, there are now positions specifically with AI in the title or, at least, include AI within the job description. As of this writing, there were about 25,000 jobs on Indeed.com with a search for “artificial intelligence.” There were more than 14,000 on Glassdoor.
Most workers are searching broadly for specific AI engineering skills and AI model-specific skills, says Causey. But what employers are including in job posts can be broken down into three main categories, Causey says:
Implementing AI models into the workplace. “Despite the fact that these models are very capable and automate a lot of things, you still have to figure out how to get these models into your products and your business.”
Development of AI models. “Large tech companies like Medline, Google and Microsoft are not only looking to implement these models, but they’re looking to do additional research and develop new models and improve these models.”
Using AI models for marketing and content creation. There’s “really specific interest around marketing. I’m seeing companies that are interested in augmenting their copywriting and marketing efforts using these models.”
Photo illustration by NerdWallet / Job images originated on Indeed.com and were altered to remove identifying details like employer and salary.