How to protect workers from the automation wave
By: RAJA KRISHNAMOORTHI
Amazon recently opened a small grocery store in Seattle that lets customers shop, and leave, without going through a checkout line. The store contains hundreds of cameras and sensors that charge your purchases to your smartphone upon leaving the store.
This may be good news for customers who can avoid the usual wait, but what does it mean for the millions of Americans who work as cashiers and grocery clerks?
The truth is that artificial intelligence, or AI, is coming to our stores and factories, if it’s not already here. An Oxford study of 702 occupations, representing the entire American labor market, found that 47 percent of jobs are at risk of replacement in the next two decades thanks to AI. Meanwhile, AI also has the potential to double economic growth rates in the same time frame.
We need to make sure that our country is poised to capture the benefits of new technology and blunt the harm to workers in affected industries.
In order to make sure that the United States stays a leader in this new field, I have introduced the AI Jobs Act. This bipartisan legislation, with five Democrats and five Republicans as original co-sponsors, requires the Department of Labor to report to Congress on both the challenges and potential benefits of the growth of artificial intelligence. We need to acquire the necessary data so we can accurately predict the potential impact of AI—both positive and negative—on the American workforce. This includes predicting where there will be job creation and augmentation, as well as the potential for worker displacement—such as cashier jobs at risk from the Amazon grocery store experiment.
In my own congressional district, which covers Chicago’s northwest and western suburbs, many industries and workers could be affected by the growth of artificial intelligence. Among the fields increasingly utilizing AI are transportation, cybersecurity and manufacturing—with significant consequences for thousands of Chicago-area workers and their families.
Unfortunately, the U.S. currently suffers from a serious lack of data to make projections about the potential impact of AI on our workforce. Our AI Jobs Act calls for the U.S. Department of Labor to assess the coming impact of AI on American workers and issue recommendations on how to respond to it. Many of the sponsors are my colleagues on the House Committee on Education & the Workforce.
Our goal is for U.S. Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta to bring business, labor and academic experts to the table to plan for future impact. Using this data, Congress can begin to prepare our constituents for the good jobs of the future through education, training and, where necessary, retraining.
Importantly, this report should be honest and transparent about which jobs are likely to become obsolete and which will require different skills and education, so we can begin immediately to help those whose jobs may disappear in the future.
Because, let’s face it: Change is coming to the workplace. In many sectors of our economy, it’s already started. We can ignore it at our peril, or we can embrace it and direct it. The development of artificial intelligence offers the chance to grow our economy and create new jobs with good pay and benefits. But we need good information to know how to manage this change and make it work for us rather than against us.
As the grocery checkout lines start to disappear, it’s past time we get started.
Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat, represents the 8th Congressional District of Illinois. Before his election to Congress, he was president of technology companies in the Chicago suburbs.