AI and the Future of Work: Preparing the Workforce for an AI-Driven Economy

By Brent Orrell, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the “end of work” have been greatly exaggerated – more than once. Throughout history, the arrival of new technology has been regarded as a threat to human work and, in every instance, new technology has been integral to unlocking new work, new value, and rising incomes.

This hopeful view is not the same thing, however, as saying that new technology, like artificial intelligence, will be all upside for every worker, all the time, everywhere. The recent report from the U.S. Chamber’s Commission on Artificial Intelligence Competition, Inclusion, and Innovation acknowledges that the effects of AI on employment will be both uneven and hard to predict. The report emphasizes that, at its core, AI tools are informing and expanding, not replacing, human labor and, “if developed and deployed ethically, [AI] has the ability to augment human capabilities and empower people to do much more.”

How Workers and Businesses Can Prepare for the AI Economy of the Future

By its nature, technological innovation requires businesses and workers to learn and adapt—and learning and adaptation can be hard. Sometimes, it means upskilling within an existing job and at other times finding a whole new job in a different sector.

This learning and adaptation process is likely to be particularly demanding when it comes to AI. A recent University of Pennsylvania study found that 80 percent of American jobs are likely to see at least 10 percent of their tasks altered by AI while almost 20 percent of jobs will see at least 50 percent of their tasks altered. Another study by Goldman Sachs largely echoed these findings estimating that 18 percent of jobs globally could be computerized with “knowledge” and “information” tasks especially exposed.

During one of the AI Commission’s field hearings, Cheryl Oldham, vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber, emphasized that if we’re going to minimize any labor market disruptions and build new and effective pathways that lead to AI-related jobs, “we need to proactively lean into workforce development.”

To do so, the report recommends:

Training and Reskilling: The creation of new programs that can help ease worker transitions find and improve incentives for businesses to invest in retraining as necessary.

Educating the Future Workforce: Urging students and workers to prepare early and to continuously upgrade their knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Economic Policies: Encouraging Congress to adopt tax policies that support “human labor augmentation” within firms rather than ones that incentivize the substitution of technology for human labor and skill.

AI is neither the end of work nor a future delivered on a golden platter. Rather, it is a new tool that, just like new tools of the past, will take time, effort, and practice to master.