As machines get smarter, there is a persistent fear in the minds of economists, policy makers and, well, everybody: Millions of people will be left obsolete and jobless.

SwissCognitiveBut the effects of artificial intelligence are likely to be a lot more complex than that. Yes, jobs will be lost, and many people will be forced to learn new skills to keep up in this new environment. But experts say the picture has a surprisingly big silver lining.

For one thing, AI opens up opportunities for many new jobs to be created—some that we can imagine and many we probably can’t right now. Already, many companies are discovering that they need a range of new workers to keep their smart new world running smoothly—and not just software developers but also managers, operators and artistic designers.

Meanwhile, the machines aren’t smart enough right now, and probably won’t be for some time, to do all the things that people can, so they will need humans to supervise them. As a result, many jobs will be transformed rather than eliminated, as people rework their old roles to include collaborating with AI in some form.

Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. predicts that investments in technology, including AI and automation, could add 20 million to 50 million jobs globally by 2030. Calculating job loss is more complicated, according to the firm, because in many cases people won’t lose their jobs outright, but instead will switch occupations.

In one study, the firm found that somewhere between 75 million and 375 million people may need to switch jobs by 2030 due to adoption of automation. Here’s a look at some jobs that will be created—or transformed—by these new smart technologies.

AI Builders

As more products, services and research come to depend on AI, there will naturally be a greater need for people who can develop the underlying systems that make AI work. What’s more, other fields will need people with knowledge of how to integrate their work with AI to fit into this new world. People are needed to oversee the work of machines to make sure they’re doing their jobs properly.

Customer-Robot Liaisons

For all the promise of AI systems, getting employees to accept them can be tough—especially when they involve changes as potentially intrusive as bringing robots into the workplace. That is why some companies that make AI applications use so-called customer success managers to help ease clients into working with the systems, answering complaints and making adjustments as needed. The role is currently among the most sought-after AI-related positions on jobs site ZipRecruiter. Will Catron is one of those managers, at Cobalt Robotics Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif. Mr. Catron, 36, is in charge of ensuring clients are happy with the robots the company has rented out as security guards on graveyard-shift and weekend duty.

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Data Labelers

For AI to properly understand the world, it needs humans to explain what things are—meaning, the data that the AI absorbs need to be labeled. That could mean identifying objects in images—labeling which part of the image is a face, for instance—or parsing sentences to teach it what phrases mean. Many workers are tasked with doing just that, looking over information and marking it for a computer. Companies such as self-driving-car developers and large tech firms can have “hundreds and hundreds of folks, sometimes even more, sitting and labeling data,” says McKinsey’s Mr. Miremadi. Sometimes the data being labeled is fairly simple. At Cobalt, for instance, photographs and posters featuring people abound in office settings, which the robots’ computer-vision systems can mistake for trespassers. Employees, including engineers and robot specialists, have flagged these as false positives, so over time the machine has learned these aren’t potential threats. […]