Artificial intelligence isn’t just coming for white-collar workers and creators. As the technology expands in manufacturing, generative artificial intelligence (Gen AI) is sweeping across industries. While it is seen as a great threat to many white-collar jobs, the technology’s rapid advance in the manufacturing industry shows that blue-collar workers are also at risk of being replaced.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution
Ed Watal, the founder and principal of IT strategy firm Intellibus, states that artificial intelligence is rapidly accelerating the fourth industrial revolution. Manufacturing is already being transformed through automation, predictive maintenance, and quality control that is changing operations. Over the past several years, smart transport robots (STRs) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) in warehouses and factories have already started eliminating tasks like operating forklifts. However, the advent of Gen AI means technology can handle other, more complex operations currently handled by humans.
Understanding Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Gen AI models can act as a “digital twin” for a production line or plant. They can be used in production or simply to run simulations without the need for shutting down a line or operating an expensive pilot plant.
“As Gen AI gets applied to computer vision and becomes more multi-modal, allowing people to upload an image or video and ask questions about it, more blue-collar jobs will be at risk,” Watal told FOX Business.
“Such capabilities will drastically reduce the need for multiple ‘experienced’ workers, as their knowledge and expertise get captured in their ‘digital supervisor twin’,” he said. “A single digital supervisor twin may be able to support all maintenance or quality engineers for a given production line or factory.”
Impact on White-Collar and Blue-Collar Jobs
While this shift due to Gen AI will significantly impact white-collar and knowledge-worker jobs in manufacturing, blue-collar jobs and physical-labor jobs will also be affected.
“AI-powered quality tools today can already deliver ongoing monitoring, generate alerts for issues, and use them to make changes that would optimize production yield, significantly reducing the need for multiple quality assurance jobs,” Watal added.
He pointed to a Goldman Sachs analysis from earlier this year that indicated advancements in Gen AI could expose up to 300,000 million jobs at risk worldwide due to automation, and says manufacturing firms have already become early AI adopters.
Bridging the Labor Gap
On the flip side, Artificial intelligence can also be thought of as a tool that enables bridging the gap due to the country’s ongoing labor shortage, according to Watal. He cited the National Association of Manufacturer’s most recent quarterly survey that shows 72% of manufacturers said their top primary challenge was the inability to attract and retain employees.
Watal said that as more labor unions representing blue-collar workers become aware of the impact of AI, the technology will increasingly become a sticking point in contract negotiations, just as it was in this year’s Hollywood actors and writers strikes.
In conclusion, the rise of artificial intelligence, particularly Gen AI, is not limited to displacing white-collar workers but also extends to blue-collar employees in the manufacturing sector. While the impact on knowledge-workers is evident, the advent of Gen AI presents a significant challenge to blue-collar jobs that traditionally involve manual labor and quality control. The transition to AI-powered systems and tools may significantly reduce the need for multiple quality assurance and maintenance positions, thereby affecting a considerable number of blue-collar workers.
However, it’s essential to acknowledge that artificial intelligence can also be a solution to bridge the ongoing labor shortage in the manufacturing industry. As the impact of AI on blue-collar jobs becomes more apparent, labor unions representing these workers are likely to address the issue in contract negotiations.
The fourth industrial revolution is well underway, and the role of AI, particularly Gen AI, in manufacturing is rapidly evolving, affecting both white and blue-collar workers.
- How does Gen AI impact blue-collar jobs in manufacturing? Gen AI is changing the landscape of manufacturing by automating tasks traditionally handled by humans. This includes quality control, maintenance, and even operating production lines, potentially putting blue-collar jobs at risk.
- Can AI help address the labor shortage in manufacturing? Yes, AI can bridge the labor shortage gap by automating tasks, thereby reducing the need for human workers. This can be a solution to the ongoing labor challenges in the manufacturing industry.
- What is the significance of a ‘digital supervisor twin’ in manufacturing? A ‘digital supervisor twin’ is a Gen AI model that can replicate the functions of a human supervisor in a manufacturing environment. It can handle tasks like maintenance, quality control, and even operate production lines.
- How many jobs worldwide are at risk due to Gen AI, according to a Goldman Sachs analysis? According to Goldman Sachs, advancements in Gen AI could expose up to 300,000 million jobs at risk worldwide due to automation.
- Are manufacturing firms early adopters of AI technology? Yes, manufacturing firms are increasingly adopting AI technology to improve efficiency and reduce labor costs. The rapid advancement of AI in manufacturing is transforming the industry.