They took our jobs… but we’re okay with it? AI-related job growth linked to improved social welfare

It’s always a bit bittersweet when we talk about AI: on one hand, the promise of automating various processes and producing more value is always exciting, but on the other hand, there’s always the fear of job replacement.

With the constant erosion of the middle class, increased income inequality, and now, a global pandemic to put the world economy on hold, the idea of having AI coming for our jobs can be nothing short of terrifying. But according to a new study, it may not be all that bad. The study found that AI-related job growth correlates with economic growth and improved social welfare.

According to a CNBC/SurveyMonkey Workplace Happiness survey from October last year, 37% of workers between the ages of 18 and 24 are worried about AI eliminating their jobs. Across all demographics, 10% of people are afraid of AI taking their jobs, even though experts say it won’t happen anytime soon. Even so, demand for AI-related jobs has been steadily growing constantly in recent years, and to many people in the workforce, it remains a thorny issue.

Two researchers affiliated with the Stanford Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI) wanted to assess just how thorny this issue is. Christos Makridis and Saurabh Mishra analyzed the number of AI-related job listings in the United States between 2014 and 2018, using Stanford HAI’s AI Index, an open-source project that tracks and visualizes data on AI. The first thing they found was that cities with more AI-related job postings exhibit greater economic growth.

This relationship was not clear and linear, and the causality is also murky. Cities that were able to leverage their industrial and educational capabilities were more successful in creating AI jobs. In other words, only cities with advanced infrastructure, educated workers, and high-tech services produced numerous AI jobs — and these were also the cities that experienced the most accelerated economic growth. Presumably, it’s not the AI jobs that cause economic growth or vice versa, it’s the underlying conditions that cause both.

But another correlation was even more interesting. When they compared the results with the Gallup U.S. Daily Poll (which measures five components of individual wellbeing: physical, social, career, community, and financial), they found that places with more AI jobs also report more well-being.

“The fact that we found this robust, positive association, even after we control for things like education, age, and other measures of industrial composition, I think is all very positive,” Makridis says.

The study can’t determine if there is any causality involved, but even so, the researchers say city leaders should take note and support smarter industrial policies, focusing on scientific and technological innovation. These policies (along with those that promote higher education) can not only encourage economic development, but also promote positive, transformational shifts among urban residents.

“Given that [cities] have an educated population set, a good internet connection, and residents with programming skills, they can drive economic growth,” Mishra concludes.

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