Artificial intelligence may well pose an existential threat to humanity. But that’s not what worries the public. What worries them is jobs.

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SwissCognitive LogoAccording to a new study conducted by my team at SYZYGY, 70 percent of the American public fear that AI will have a negative impact on employment in the US. On average, Americans in work today believe that 30 percent of their work could be replaced by AI-enabled automation technology within five years. And overall, when asked about what they fear most from AI, job automation is the number one ranked fear. Fears of job automation are not new and have been ludicrously overblown in the past. Can you think of a job that was entirely automated – apart from elevator operator? But today’s fears are now turbo-charged with the AI media-hype. The narrative is simple. Advances in AI mean it’s not only America’s shrinking manufacturing sector at risk from a robot takeover, but the rise of AI software algorithms means that white-collar work is under threat as well.

Call Centers

Take, for example, the 2.2 million Americans who work in call centers today. The Economist predicts AI technology will soon automate these jobs because any job that follows a script or process is at risk for algorithmic automation. The influential ‘ Frey and Osborne study ’ on the future of work for 702 US occupations concludes 47 percent of total US employment is at risk of becoming automated over the next two decades. Already, 6 percent of American workers have lost a job or hours due to automation according to the influential Pew Research Center . Forrester predicts that will eliminate 6 percent of all US jobs within the next three years, and while AI will create new jobs, the net loss by 2025 will be 7 percent.

Predicting the Future is not easy

The future will decide whether or not these predictions are true. But what is true now is that people associate the complex subject of AI with the easy-to-grasp idea that this technology means job automation. This association makes a complicated concept meaningful to people: AI effectively means job automation to the American public. Whether this automation means automating the jobs we do at home or the job we do at work, AI is about automating jobs. This has important implications for businesses marketing AI technology to organizations or to the public. […]