Nearly 40 percent of jobs worldwide could be affected by artificial intelligence (AI), which risks replacing jobs and worsening inequalities, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said.

The agency’s analysis comes ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where AI is expected to be a key topic.

While automation has in the past tended to affect routine tasks, AI is different in that it has the potential to change high-skilled jobs, IMF managing director Kristalina Georgieva said in a Sunday blog post.

As a result the technology is likel to have more of an impact on highly developed economies, affecting about 60 percent of jobs, she said.

Jobs could ‘disappear’

Roughly half of those jobs may benefit as workers see improved productivity, but for the other half AI could perform tasks currently carried out by humans.

This “could lower labor demand, leading to lower wages and reduced hiring”, and could even cause those jobs to disappear in “extreme” cases, Georgieva said.

“Advanced economies face greater risks from AI – but also more opportunities to leverage its benefits – compared with emerging market and developing economies,” she wrote.

Her comments come amidst the rapid growth in popularity of AI tools such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, which spurred massive investmenet in the technology last year – even as tech firms continue to lay off human workers.

In emerging markets about 40 percent of jobs are likely to be affected, with 26 percent exposed in low-income countries.

Image credit: Pexels

Inequalities

That means those countries face less short-term disruption, but in many cases such economies may not have the resources or infrastructure to benefit from AI, raising the risk over time that the technology could “worsen inequality among nations”.

AI could also exacerbate income equalities within countries.

“Younger workers may find it easier to exploit opportunities, while older workers could struggle to adapt,” Georgieva wrote.

She said that in “most scenarios” AI would be likely to “worsen overall inequality”, something policymakers should address proactively.

Failing to do so risks “further stoking social tensions”, she warned.

‘Prosperity for all’

“It is crucial for countries to establish comprehensive social safety nets and offer retraining programs for vulnerable workers. In doing so, we can make the AI transition more inclusive, protecting livelihoods and curbing inequality,” Georgieva wrote.

The agency released an “AI Preparedness Index” measuring countries’ readiness for the technology based on digital infrastructure, human-capital and labour-market policies, innovation and economic integration, as well as regulation and ethics.

Singapore, the US and Denmark topped the list based on “strong results in all four categories”.

“The AI era is upon us, and it is still within our power to ensure it brings prosperity for all,” Georgieva wrote.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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