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Expand chart
Data: The Brookings Institution; Chart: Axios Visuals

While robots upend blue-collar factory work and trucking in the middle of the country, AI and machine learning are poised to deeply alter white-collar jobs in superstar coastal cities.

Why it matters: No one is immune to the shockwave of automation in the workplace.

"AI will be as central to the white-collar office environment as robotics has been to the production economy," said Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. "They'll fundamentally change what work is and what humans do. And no one gets a free pass."

What's happening: A new analysis released Wednesday by Brookings overlaid the keywords in AI-related patents with job descriptions to get a more detailed understanding of which jobs are most likely to be affected by AI — and where they are.

  • Industries at risk: Carmakers and clothing makers are using AI for advanced manufacturing on production lines — that’s far more complex that the routine, task-oriented automation that most robots power. Digital services like software publishing and computer system design also show high exposure, along with professional services like purchasing, and agricultural work.
  • Cities highly exposed to AI disruption: Established or emerging tech hubs like San Jose, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Boulder and Huntsville. Also agricultural centers like Madera and Salinas in California, and logistics and advanced manufacturing hubs like Greenville, South Carolina, Detroit and Louisville.

The big picture: Much of the research assessing the workforce impact of these new technologies — robotics, AI and machine learning — lumps them all together under the bucket of automation.

  • The dominant prediction has been that automation will most impact "routine" functions like factory-floor and cashier work.

But when looking specifically at AI — which has the ability to interpret voice commands, recognize images, and make predictions and decisions — jobs ranging from radiologists to legal professionals and marketing specialists could find themselves with drastically diminished roles.

"There are a lot of high-skilled tasks that will be affected by machine learning, and that's going to be very disruptive," says Erik Brynjolfsson, director of MIT's Initiative on the Digital Economy.

  • Those with bachelor's degrees will be much more exposed to AI than their less-educated counterparts, countering the longtime recommendation that more education will insulate workers from this disruption.
  • Men and workers who are white and Asian American have more exposure than other demographics due to their overrepresentation in technical, engineering and professional roles.
  • However, the highest-paid, most elite workers like CEOs appear to be more protected.

Between the lines: States like Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Nebraska may be hit from both ends of the spectrum. Blue-collar workers there could be displaced by robots while white-collar workers are hit by AI and machine learning.

The bottom line: White-collar work is poised to face the same turmoil as jobs on the lower end of the wage spectrum. But the higher-earning workers — who are likely to have more education and more diverse skills, as well as bigger bank accounts — will be far better prepared to navigate the tectonic shifts, Muro says.

Go deeper: The threat to the $100,000-a-year worker

Go deeper

Scoop: Biden briefing calls for 20,000 child migrant beds

President Biden, during a virtual meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

A briefing scheduled for President Biden this afternoon outlines the need for 20,000 beds to shelter an expected crush of child migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: The rapid influx of unaccompanied children is building into the administration's first new crisis. A presentation created by the Domestic Policy Council spells out the dimensions with nearly 40 slides full of charts and details.

FBI director: Jan. 6 Capitol attack was domestic terrorism

The FBI views the Jan. 6 Capitol siege as an act of domestic terrorism, director Christopher Wray testified in his opening statement Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Why it matters: The FBI's designation of the attack as domestic terrorism puts the perpetrators "on the same level with ISIS and homegrown violent extremists," Wray said.

Sen. Martin Heinrich to introduce plan for Puerto Rico statehood

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) at a hearing on Feb. 23, 2021 in Washington, D.C. PHOTO: Jim Watson-Pool/Getty Images

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Rep. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) announced Tuesday they would introduce legislation to start the motions for Puerto Rico statehood.

Why it matters: More than 52% of Puerto Ricans voted last November in favor of statehood, three years after Hurricane Maria struck the island and caused one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history. It exposed the island's vulnerable position as a U.S. territory and its lack of resources to battle poverty.