Automation has had an ongoing, transformative effect on the American workplace for decades, particularly in manufacturing, and in the emerging age of artificial intelligence (AI), that transformation is expected to be more pronounced and available to new sectors of the workforce. According to the Brookings Institute, approximately 36 million Americans have jobs that are likely to be disrupted by automation in the coming years.

Research shows that 70 percent or more of the tasks performed by human workers in factory and retail positions, as well as cooks, waiters and clerical office workers, among others, could be taken over by machines over the next two decades. AI is also expected to assist industries with open positions that they are unable to fill. In cybersecurity, for example, projections show that there will be 3.5 million unfilled positions in the field over the next few years, and AI and machine learning can take some of the load off of IT departments.

But a job is a collection of tasks, and while some tasks may be taken over by machines, researchers in the automation field are quick to point out that this does not mean it presents an existential threat to employment. Routine cognitive or physical tasks may be taken over by AI, but they note that this frees the human labor force to focus more on the supervision, maintenance and programming of these systems. Subsequently, retraining workers and giving them the opportunities to learn new skills will be a growing concern during the transition.