The AFRO editorial team created this image by simply typing “this is the future of art” into the AI image generator, Stable Diffusion. (AFRO File Photo)

By Matthew Wynn and Kyle Russo,
Capital News Service

Artificial Intelligence — it’s the thing of sci-fi movies and dystopian novels. It’s also present and real, impacting laborers and professionals across industries.

Recently, a man used the AI image generator Midjourney to enter a fine arts contest for the Colorado State Fair under the “Digital Arts/Digitally-Manipulated Photography” category. His piece won the top prize, sparking conversation from artists about the validity of AI in art.

Many have flocked to AIs like Midjourney and DALL-E 2, which are designed to create illustrations from simple, one-sentence prompts, for their low-effort input and high-quality output.

DALL-E 2 can “create realistic images and art from a description in natural language.” The program, along with Midjourney and other image generation AI like Stable Diffusion, dominated internet searches for months. One Twitter account, @weirddalle, has amassed over one million followers.

Artists are not the first to feel the pressures of automation and intelligent technology on their work, and the replacement of human labor by technology is not a new phenomenon.

The Industrial Revolution brought automation to industries like farming and agriculture, reducing the need for routine physical labor, writes Georgios Petropoulos, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These technological innovations can both negatively and positively affect employment. Technology can displace workers from routine tasks and even spark new industries altogether that create new jobs.

For some occupations considered particularly at-risk to AI technology and automation, historical and projected data predicts slowing growth of certain jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Professions like interpreters and translators, personal finance advisors, and fast food and counter workers are predicted to see the most dramatic stalls in growth due to AI technology.

AI has already made an impact in the most vulnerable industries. Google Translate boasts over one billion installs as of March 2021, while job growth for translators has steadily declined since 1999.

Translation is still considered a “creative” profession, write Vassil Kirov and Bagryan Malamin in their article “Are Translators Scared of Artificial Intelligence?” The work translators do requires problem solving between cultures, so translation is not entirely replaceable, but the legwork of the job is slowly being switched over to machines and AI.

In some translation firms, AI is used to maximize workflow by having translators edit mistakes in what the computer produces.

Within the service industry, new developments in AI and automation continue to alter the experiences of both employees and customers. In 2018, McDonald’s announced their plan to add self-service kiosks to every U.S. location by 2020.

In 2021, McDonald’s used AI to take drive-thru orders at 10 locations in Chicago, CNBC reported. Orders here saw about 85 percent accuracy, and only about a fifth of orders required a human to take them, CEO Chris Kempczinski said.

Many professions are predicted to experience a stall in growth — and even a decline in jobs — from general automation, too, not strictly AI. Cashiers and customer service representatives are predicted to experience a dramatic decline. Professions like telemarketers, which have already been seeing a decline in jobs, are predicted to experience further, less intense, decline.

In some cases, the jobs that experience the strongest effects of automation and AI are also the jobs that require the least level of education and offer lower levels of pay.

Fast food counter workers, retail salespersons, and cashiers all require no formal education and typically have median salaries of under $30,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Young, less educated women make up most of the workforce in the latter two jobs, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Retail workers are also more likely to live in poverty or be on Medicaid than other workers.

These trends raise the possibility that the loss of these jobs to automation will have a disproportionate effect on people who have less access to education and are poorer.

In Maryland, this is abundantly clear. The Maryland Department of Labor currently projects for substantial loss in some fields with less specialized work, following national projections of jobs to be lost to AI.

Maryland is projected to have 6.7 percent fewer cashiers by 2030 — a loss of 4,780 jobs, by far the highest numerical projected loss. Losing cashiers, one of the most common occupations in the state, could have broader implications for retail workers as a whole.

The retail trade employs 274,000 in the state, according to the Department of Labor.

Interest in AI continues to grow — 35 percent of businesses today have adopted AI and an additional 42 percent are exploring the technology to maximize efficiency or cut costs, according to the 2022 IBM Global AI Adoption Index.

Workers may not be replaced overnight, but workplaces increasingly look toward an automated future.

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