AI adoption has surged but the job market is tight. What does it mean?
February 14, 2023, 5:37 PM
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Robots holding platters of plantains and shrimp zoom between tables at Sergio’s, a Cuban restaurant in Miami, where the waist-high machines use artificial intelligence to evade strollers, toddlers and even each other.
The restaurant brought in the androids after the pandemic struck, said Carlos Gazuita, the CEO of the chain restaurant.
People had flocked to Florida, bringing a surge of customers. Waiters though quickly suffered burn out, he said. Sergio’s was struggling to retain staff while an infection could leave Gazuita short a server for as long as two weeks. He said he had to close off sections of some restaurants.
“It was out of desperation,” he said.
The extra help has allowed Gazuita to cut wait staff by as much as 20%, while lightening the load for waiters relieved of carrying food and dishes, he said. The move has also delivered savings, he added, since the robots cost about $2 per hour.
Gazuita said he hopes to add more robots, eventually supplementing dishwashers. He acknowledged, however, the anxiety among some staffers that AI could take away much-needed jobs.
“Could you lose jobs? Maybe,” he said. “But could you pay more to the employees? The balance might overall help people,” he said.
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Sergio’s is hardly alone. Coinciding with the tightest U.S. job market in more than a half century, business adoption of AI surged during the pandemic but did not cause job losses, experts told ABC News. While data on the scale of displacement remains limited, they said, anecdotes confirm that the technology cut some positions while creating others.
Still, AI is expected to displace more and more jobs going forward, they added, citing buzzy language bot ChatGPT as a breakthrough that could threaten even white-collar positions. AI will enhance productivity and increase compensation for some jobs but it risks leaving out workers who fail to keep up, they said.
“We’ve seen an increase in AI-related displacement and redefinition of work accelerated during COVID,” Anu Madgavkar, the head of labor market research at the McKinsey Global Institute, told ABC News. “We would expect this to rise going forward.”
“The shift in the demand for work into higher-paid, better-skilled jobs could result in inequality,” she added.
So far, however, AI has fallen short of the disruptive, job-killing force that some observers feared, David Autor, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who specializes in technological change and the labor force, told ABC News.
He pointed to the near-historic tightness of the job market. Jobs are plentiful despite high-profile layoffs at companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter and Goldman Sachs. Last month, the unemployment rate fell to 3.4%, the lowest figure since 1969.
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As of December, the U.S. economy had 11 million unfilled job openings, government data showed.
“I don’t think there’s been a lot of job displacement yet,” Autor said. “There’s evidence firms are starting to do that. In aggregate, I haven’t seen any direct evidence that it comes to a lot or is even detectable at this point.”