UN Study Finds Women Face Disproportionate AI Job Risk

A United Nations study has found women are more greatly exposed to potential job losses caused by generative artificial intelligence (AI), due to their over-representation in clerical jobs, especially in the most economically developed countries.

The study by the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) found most jobs and industries were only partially exposed to the risk of automation by generative AI, which has proven wildly popular since the release of ChatGPT by Microsoft-backed OpenAI late last year.

Such systems are capable of generating content such as specialised texts of images, after being trained on vast amounts of existing materials.

Most jobs were “likely to be complemented, rather than substituted, by the latest wave of Generative AI, such as ChatGPT”, the ILO found.

Women affected

Most workers would therefore see changes to work intensity and their own autonomy, rather than seeing their jobs disappear entirely, the agency said.

“Therefore, the greatest impact of this technology is likely to not be job destruction, but rather the potential changes to the quality of jobs, notably work intensity and autonomy,” the report said.

Clerical work was the most exposed to the risk of automation, with nearly one-quarter of tasks considered highly exposed and more than half having medium exposure.

That meant women were more than twice as likely to be affected by automation, due to their over-representation in clerical work, especially in middle- and high-income countries.

Job risk

Jobs such as managers and technicians had only a small proportion of tasks highly exposed to automation, while about one-quarter of tasks were moderately exposed, the ILO said.

Higher-income countries were the most exposed due to the prevalence of clerical and para-professional jobs in such economies, with a full 5.5 percent of total employment potentially exposed to automating effects from generative AI.

In low-income countries, by contrast, only 0.4 percent of total employment was exposed in this way.

But the potential for workers using generative AI to assist them in routine tasks, leaving them free to handle higher-level tasks, was nearly the same across all countries.

Augmentation

This means that “with the right policies in place, this new wave of technological transformation could offer important benefits for developing countries”, the study said.

But the ILO cautioned that job augmentation could be implemented in a way that “limits workers’ agency or accelerates work intensity” and said that countries should therefore design policies to support an “orderly, fair and consultative” shift, emphasising that “outcomes of the technological transition are not pre-determined”.

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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