Robert Seamans, New York University – The Impact of A.I. on the Human Workforce

On New York University Week:  Will future artificial intelligence help or harm the human workforce?

Robert Seamans, associate professor of management and organizations, weighs in.

Robert Seamans (PhD, UC Berkeley) is an Associate Professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business where he teaches courses in game theory and strategy. Professor Seamans’ research focuses on how firms use technology in their strategic interactions with each other, and also focuses on the economic consequences of AI, robotics and other advanced technologies. His research has been published in leading academic journals and been cited in numerous outlets including The Atlantic, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and others. In 2015, Professor Seamans was appointed as the Senior Economist for technology and innovation on President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers.

The Impact of A.I. on the Human Workforce


Applications of artificial intelligence or “AI”—the use of computer software that relies on highly sophisticated, algorithmic techniques to find patterns in data and make predictions about the future—have grown in number and variety over the past decade. AI is now embedded in many products and services that businesses and consumers use in daily life, including for example internet search and road navigation.

The rapid advances in AI have led some to worry that AI will dramatically alter the economy and that someday soon algorithms and robots will take human jobs. On the other hand, others are excited by the potential for AI to enhance human productivity through new products, services and other innovations. To date, however, there’s been no systematic study of the conditions under which AI substitutes or complements human work.

In order to assess the impact of AI on the human workforce, we conducted a global survey of startup firms that are using AI to create new products and services. Our assumption was that these firms are the ones developing cutting-edge commercial AI applications, and therefore provide a window into what the future may hold.

When we asked these startups about the benefits that their products provided to their commercial customers, they were much more likely to report that the benefits included enhancing human capabilities rather than reducing labor costs.

The startups also reported that their products were likely to create new jobs in professional, managerial and back-office sales categories, and that jobs were likely to be eliminated for manual workers, clerical workers and front-office service categories.

It is quite possible that AI might have different employment effects in the more distant future. However, the results of our survey suggest that the impact of AI on the workforce will be heterogeneous, enhancing human work in some cases and substituting for humans in others.