20M-40M jobs are in peril in the US from developments in AI and other technology -- 15 to 30% of the US labor force. So if foreseeable technologies materialize, then then the need for human labor could decrease.
Technology always puts existing jobs under strain. This doesn't immediately mean that human labor as a whole is under threat. Generally, other professions grow to fill the loss, often creating more jobs than the ones that are lost. Right now we are seeing a confluence of robotics and artificial intelligence that seem to be placing threats to a large number of existing jobs. The pressures as I describe below are sufficiently sharp that the need for human work may be decreasing in aggregate and whether a) the people employed in the displaced jobs will be able to adapt to the new jobs and/or b) there is the need for every adult to work 40 hours a week for 40 years of their lives.
The changes in the labor force that will happen during the working lifetimes of existing workers are likely to be greater than any point in time. It's important to remember that this is a multi-decade transition. It won't be happening by 2018, but by 2038 -- when a lot of the current workforce will still be working -- the changes described below will likely be happening.
AI and robotics will decrease the demand for certain types of labor. To understand the impact, we have to both understand whether these technological advancements are evolutionary improvements or extinction events for certain jobs and how large the employment is in those jobs. I'm going to couch this in the US where there aren't many worker protections and where data is readily available. But this applies worldwide.
The vision for what technology does is that each person will be able to do more per hour of work. That means that jobs which are primarily supporting the work of others will see declining employment. Work that does not require creative work are much more likely to be automated.
I'll divide the 137.9M jobs (listed) into three sectors, each making up a third.
- Stable or growing are positions which are going to benefit from upcoming technology or have already made the transition to being much more efficient.
- Transitional areas which are going to have sizable disruptions, but will likely see continued good employment. These are skilled workers who will have to make significant changes to their work to leverage new tools that will make them more productive.
- The last segment are declining sectors where near-term technology is going to displace a lot of jobs.
When we're talking about two thirds of the jobs in the country being impacted with a full one third suffering significant declines, this has the possibility to be violent.
All the categories of jobs will continue to exist, but the number of people employed in them may change. Everyone will need to be learning how to leverage productivity in this new environment.
Stable or Likely Growth Areas: 46.9M Jobs
- We haven't seen AI or robotics decrease work in medical care which accounts for 4.0M jobs. Similarly, there is also personal care which create 4.3M jobs.
- Education is at its heart a profession that requires interpersonal interactions. This sector accounts for 8.5M jobs. We'll see new technology-driven techniques in education, but not a dramatic change in the number of jobs.
- There are another 2.0M community and social service jobs. These jobs require a lot of interpersonal interaction and understanding human emotion. The ability to automate the rote parts of the jobs will increase their effectiveness rather than hurt the profession.
- Another 1.0M law-related and legal jobs that will see some decline in support staff, but will likely not see significant decline since a lot of this this is more strategic work. The ability to process large amounts of raw data (e.g. email) quickly will increase the effectiveness of this the support staff, meaning that it will make sense to hire more.
- Protective services will likely be stable with 3.3M jobs. Though, some number of police may go away from a decline in traffic tickets.
- It will be interesting to see how much AI will take work from computer, mathematical, engineering, and science occupations which there are 7.6M of these jobs. I would guess that certain jobs would go away and replaced by higher efficiency ones. Likely this is still a growth industry.
- Art, design and media will likely be a growing area increasing 1.8M jobs. These roles are almost by definition impossible to automate.
- Agriculture has already made the transition and those 0.5M jobs are stable. Agriculture at 1900 accounted for nearly 40% of all jobs  and now accounts for less than 1%. Agriculture is pretty lean and labor-efficient now in comparison to other labor-intensive sectors.
- Construction is an interesting case with 5.5M jobs. Robotics may be able to reduce this if there can be more pre-fab components made to reduce labor costs. Similarly there are another 5.4M jobs in installation and maintenance that are likely stable. There may be an increase in construction as the needs placed on communities and infrastructure change with more automation in the transportation sector.
Likely Transitional Areas: 44.9M Jobs
These are jobs that will see their roles become significantly more efficient. The need for human specialization will decline because there will be more services will be sold by specialized products.
- Some of the jobs that are likely to be replaced by AI will be white-collar jobs. There are 21.8M office and administrative support jobs and another 14.0M management and business operations jobs. This will be a shock since many of these positions had been relatively prestigious roles that are currently highly paid. This will not necessarily be as dramatic as it sounds. What it will do is decrease the cost of doing business. It will be better for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Many of these white-collar workers will make the transition more seamlessly than other areas. Essentially, many small companies will be able to act like big companies.
- Production and manufacturing accounts for 9.1M jobs and will be transitioned to higher efficiency jobs. We've already started to see the new wave of manufacturing away from human labor and toward robots and automation. Manufacturing is already shifting to high-end, custom goods, often using novel materials or manufacturing practices where labor is not the dominant production cost. This will allow re-shoring of jobs that had started leaving in the 1990s. Of course the number of jobs will be smaller, but they will be higher paid.
Declining Areas: 39.7 M Jobs
These areas will likely see significant declines in employment: 25% to 75%. These are industries where labor is a major component of the cost structure.
- We see self-driving cars and trucks coming quickly. This imperils 3.8M motor vehicle operators.
- We already see many automated warehouses that puts at risk 4.5M material moving workers.
- Many sale operators will also see a hit. This sector has 14.4M jobs. 8.8M are retail sales workers of which 3.5M are cashiers. Sales representatives will also be more efficient, so it's likely there will be many fewer of these 1.4M jobs.
- Food preparation has 12.6M jobs. 7.1M of those jobs are in servers, including 3.7M counter workers.
- Similarly, building maintenance may be hit since a lot of that is cleaning. This is 4.4M jobs with 75% of that in cleaning. Robotics and AI will decrease the need for cleaning, particularly in corporate settings.
So to summarize, a full third of the labor force will experience significant declines in the need for human labor. These are some of the lowest paid jobs and jobs where the workers tend not to have skills that align well with taking advantage of AI and robotics. Another third of the labor force will need to adapt significantly to the increased impact that each worker will be able to have thanks to AI. Another third will grow and expand. The growth won't be nearly as big as the losses in the declining areas.
This question originally appeared on Quora. the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world. You can follow Quora on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.