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Economy

Where Automation Will Displace the Most Workers

In the coming “AI Era,” job losses from automation could have a bigger impact on smaller towns and rural areas.
Average automation potential by metropolitan area, 2016.
Average automation potential by metropolitan area, 2016.Brookings Institution

What impact is the next wave of automation likely to have on society? The answers to that question tend to oscillate between utopian and dystopian scenarios—we’ll be in a Jetsons fantasia of robot-maids or Matrix wasteland of machine slavemasters. The actual picture, at least according to a new report out of the Brookings Institution, may be a bit more complicated.

Researchers Mark Muro, Robert Maxim, and Jacob Whiton analyzed the stresses and gains automation created in the last few decades through the rise of information technology—the “IT era,” as they call it. Then they forecast what the next few decades—the “AI era”—might look like to see how it compares. The takeaway: Like past waves of automation, this new one powered by artificial intelligence may not be as bleak overall as some are making it out to be. But it is likely to have a disproportionate impact on certain people and places.