How worried are U.S. workers about losing their job to artificial intelligence? The majority are not, according to a new The Washington City Times survey, but the data shows that the answer to that question varies widely based on some key demographic factors.
A quarter of workers (24%) are worried AI will make their job obsolete, but fears about AI job displacement run much higher among workers of color, younger workers, and lower-salaried workers, according to the latest The Washington City Times/SurveyMonkey Workforce Survey.
By the numbers:
- Concern diminishes with age: 32% of workers aged 18-24 say they are worried, compared with just 14% of workers 65 and older.
- The 19% of white workers worried is significantly less than the 32% of Black workers, 35% of Hispanic workers, and 38% of Asian workers who say they are worried.
- 30% of workers making less than $50,000 are worried, compared with 16% of those making over $150,000.
- Fully remote workers are much more apt than fully in-person workers (54% vs. 38%) to say their job is likely to change due to disruption from AI, a finding that corresponds to other survey data that shows greater fears among remote workers about falling behind in careers as more workers return to in-person.
The survey was conducted by SurveyMonkey between May 23-31 among nearly 9,000 workers across the U.S.
Where knowledge workers are worried about AI
While low-wage work has long been perceived as a target of automation, the survey data by industry reveals that more recent concerns about knowledge worker displacement are also a significant factor in the level of fear. Roughly half of workers in advertising & marketing (51%) and business support and logistics (46%) worried AI will soon take their job – twice the level of concern overall.
Even with the majority of the workforce not worried, workers do expect their jobs to change as a result of AI. Forty-three percent say they expect their job to change significantly in the next five years due to disruption from AI.
AI experts have maintained that while there will inevitably be some job losses attributed to AI, the technology will offer as many opportunities as threats.
“Technology might automate a part of someone’s job,” said Michael Chui, a partner in the McKinsey Global Institute who focuses on AI, in a recent interview with The Washington City Times’s Sharon Epperson. “And you might describe that as technology therefore augmenting their job, it gives somebody superpowers because for instance, if technology can write a first draft of a memo for you. … I do more things than write memos.”
There were reports at the Davos World Economic Forum in January that CEOs were using ChatGPT to write first drafts of speeches.
OpenAI CEO Sam Altman speaks during a keynote address announcing ChatGPT integration for Bing at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington, on February 7, 2023.
Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images
If this AI outcome plays out as forecasted, Chui says, individual workers will see productivity increases. Some of the first academic studies done on AI and productivity have shown large gains.
But Chui said when you do the math on AI and work, that handing over tasks to AI could influence staffing numbers. “If machines can do 15% of somebody’s job and there are 100 people doing that job, a manager might ask, ‘Do I need 100 or 85 people?’ On the other hand, we see other managers saying, ‘I want 100 people and I want them all to be more productive.'”
Many experts say that workers should be experimenting with generative AI today to preserve their jobs, for example, with lawyers or teachers of the future being those who have adapted to AI use in their roles. All the way up to the most powerful jobs in the world, workers are experimenting with OpenAI’s breakthrough ChatGPT — Apple CEO Tim Cook said this week he is using the OpenAI product.
In fact, the survey finds C-level (23%) and VP-level executives (27%) are about twice as likely as individual contributors (12%) to say the topic of AI has been discussed “a lot” at their workplace.
Most workers are not using AI today
But the survey finds that among those who say they are using AI because it is already necessary for them to do their job, more than half are worried AI will soon make their job obsolete, an indicator that the places where AI has already spread are being disrupted rapidly. But that is a small sub-group: A majority (64%) of workers say they don’t use AI at all on the job; 26% say AI can help but isn’t necessary, and only 8% say using AI is required.
“Most workers are not using AI to do their jobs on a regular basis, but those who are seem intimidated by the new technology and what it might mean for them longer-term,” said Laura Wronski, senior research manager of science at Momentive.
Many workers (43%) say they expect their job to change significantly in the next five years due to disruption from AI. “Even if they aren’t affected yet, many workers are nervous about how different things could be with a greater reliance on AI for tasks that used to be done manually,” Wronski said.
Workers will need to think through the skills they will need that are complimentary to the technology, Chui said, and he added that corporations and HR departments should be thinking through these issues as well to build a workforce of the future that is competitive.
“Everyone is going to have to grapple with this because the technology will continue to be adopted, continue to change the work that everybody does,” he said.
“I think the concern about what’s going to be the impact on workers also relates to whether we have the ability to hone these skills faster and more effectively in our workforce,” said Anu Madgavkar, a partner with the McKinsey Global Institute. “And if we do, then we capture the twin goals … the higher productivity potential, but also the ability for more workers to be engaged in more satisfying, more productive and more gainful work.”
But the survey finds that to date, discussion of AI within the workplace remains the exception outside of the tech industry, with just 14% of workers saying the topic of AI has been discussed “a lot” at their workplace. One-third say it has been discussed “a little,” but over half (51%) say it hasn’t been discussed at all.
To join the The Washington City Times Workforce Executive Council, apply at cnbccouncils.com/wec.