Technology

Report: 1 In 4 Jobs In Houston Are At High-Risk Of Being Displaced By Automation, AI

A study by the Brookings Institution looked at how emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning will transform the American workforce.

About one in four jobs in Houston are at high risk of being displaced by automation in years to come, according to a recent report by the Brookings Institution.

The study looked at how emerging technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning will transform the American workforce.

“With automation and artificial intelligence moving forward, I think it conjures up images of robots moving around, like Rosie the maid from the Jetsons going around tidying up the house,” said Robert Maxim, a senior research analyst at the Brookings Institution and one of the authors of the report. “But a lot this stuff is actually going to be computer software. It might not even have a physical presence in the world.”

The researchers classified a job as high-risk if 70 percent or more of the tasks involved have the potential to be automated.

“What that means is if you’re replacing 75 percent of the tasks then you’re not going to need as many workers conducting that job in the economy,” Maxim said. “There’s not going to be this mass displacement, but in certain occupations there will certainly be displacement and people will need to find new jobs.”

With 25.5 percent of its jobs at high risk of being automated, Houston was slightly higher than the national average of 25 percent, and ranked 29 out of the 100 largest metro areas in the United States. 

Industries most at risk

Across Houston’s labor market as a whole, 46.3 percent of the job tasks currently performed by workers will likely be automatable in the future. Some of the industries most likely to be impacted – both nationwide and in Houston – include food service, administrative roles and transportation.  

“Houston’s a pretty large logistics and transportation hub. And one of the jobs that’s at most risk for disruption is truck driving,” Maxim said. “In particular with the rise of autonomous vehicles there’s going to be some pretty significant changes to the long haul trucking and logistics and transportation industries moving forward.”

Another sector in Houston that will feel the brunt of these emerging technologies is fossil fuel extraction.

“The jobs that are around fossil fuel extraction and refinement are highly automatable,” Maxim said. “They’re things that are fairly dangerous, they’re things that are fairly rote and routine, and so they’re kind of primed to be able to be turned over to machines moving forward.”

Timeline for integration

In the study, the researchers looked at technologies that are already in development. Maxim said most would start being integrated into the workforce by 2030, though it would likely be another 15 to 35 years after that before they’re widespread.

“The idea is a lot of this stuff is still in prototype stages, but by 2030 it should be operational, [and] be able to be employed in the job. And so just because something is able to be deployed by 2030 doesn’t mean it necessarily will be everywhere,” he said.

He compared the integration of automation technologies to the way personal computing transformed the workplace.

“Even jobs that are at low risk are going to still have some of their tasks and some of their day to day routines automated by new technologies moving forward,” he said. “So this is something that just as the personal computer touched nearly every job in the United States, these new technologies are going to have a similar widespread impact where they’re affecting almost every worker.”

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