The Biggest Threat to Your Job: Immigration or A.I.?

What do Americans view as the biggest threat to their long-term employment—immigration or artificial intelligence (A.I.)?

The results are nearly split: some 58 percent believe that technology will devastate jobs, while 42 percent view immigration and offshoring as the gravest danger, according to data from Gallup. (That data was collected via a mail survey of 3,297 U.S. adults, conducted between Sept. 15 and Oct. 10, 2017.)

These opinions are also split along political lines, according to the polling firm. “Republicans, who see immigration and offshoring as roughly an equal threat as technology, are the only subgroup of Americans not to see technology as a greater threat,” Gallup stated. Among Democrats, some 23 percent are concerned that their job could end up lost to automation and A.I., while only 9 percent think that immigration places their current position at existential risk.

Overall, nearly three-quarters of Americans believe that A.I. will end up destroying more jobs than it creates, and almost one in four believe that their own job is at risk (by comparison, some 12 percent think that immigration and offshoring will take their job).

The federal government has done relatively little over the past year to address concerns over artificial intelligence and automation, Gallop concluded: “U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin recently said that there was no need to worry about A.I. displacing American workers for a half century or more. Trump has been much more focused on the impact of immigration, based on the contention that immigrants take jobs away from Americans.”

Within the tech community, A.I. and immigration are both hot topics. Although President Trump promised sweeping reforms to the H-1B visa program, which many tech companies use to pull workers from other countries into the U.S., those changes have taken place in a somewhat piecemeal manner (at least so far).

For example, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has implemented a policy that companies seeking H-1B employees need to prove that open roles are specialized ones; meanwhile, the White House has made it clear that it wants to prevent spouses of H-1B visa holders from obtaining H-4 visas that would allow them to work. But larger H-1B reform remains mired on a Congressional level.

While immigration is the source of a good deal of passion among tech pros, A.I. also poses some real dangers. In late 2017, a study by research firm Gartner suggested that A.I. and machine learning could eliminate as many as 1.8 million jobs by 2020, while creating 2.3 million new ones. While that net gain sounds pretty good, it’s far less comforting if your job is one vaporized by the rise of semi-intelligent machines.

“Now is the time to really impact your long-term A.I. direction,” Svetlana Sicular, a Gartner research vice president, advised tech companies at the time. “For the greatest value, focus on augmenting people with A.I. Enrich people’s jobs, reimagine old tasks and create new industries. Transform your culture to make it rapidly adaptable to A.I.-related opportunities or threats.”

Realistically, however, many companies won’t make that effort; managers will lay off human workers in favor of automated systems. And other analyst predictions are much more dire: for example, Oxford University researchers Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, in a highly controversial 2013 paper (PDF), predicted that roughly 47 percent of jobs in the United States could eventually become automated.

Anyone working in tech knows it’s challenging to land (and keep) a job. The best antidote to most threats is to keep your skills up-to-date and your personal network engaged.

19 Responses to “The Biggest Threat to Your Job: Immigration or A.I.?”

  1. Srinath

    Tech industry isn’t bursting with jobs, unemployed for 3 months here with 25yrs of experience in IT all of it in the US. The tech industry is looking desperately for minimum wage, disposable workers who can be shuffled across the country/world at the drop of a hat. They really need people to work for $60,000 in silicon valley and NYC and will do anything to get it, including outsource it through 12 middle men and harass you to do more unrelated stuff past what was in your original skill with no time or training and get blamed for any shortcomings.

    • Ahuehuete

      We had a large layoff where I work a few months ago. My laid off coworkers had a very hard time finding new jobs, even though most are young and have current skill sets. Most had to settle for no benefits, low paid contract tech gigs.

      I decided to test the waters myself and did not like what I saw: severe downward pressure on wages and benefits, employers who seem to be in no hurry to hire and who want you to relocate on your own dime. That’s not what an industry that is allegedly bursting with jobs looks like.

    • Then come to Michigan, seriously we’ve interviewed around 20 guys for java development, the pay is around 85 and hour (if you’re direct with the vendor) and all of them sucked, we were forced to pick the least worst one and he’s very likely to get fired soon because he sucks, and this happens all the time.

      • Ahuehuete

        I am constantly contacted by such recruiters for out of state contract gigs. The vendors might be charging you 85 per hour, but the pay offered is usually in the $50 range.

        Perhaps it’s harder to recruit in Michigan (to be honest I wouldn’t like to relocate there). Here in the Denver area there is a lot of competition for jobs. It’s even worse in places like nearby Ft. Collins, where I’ve seen full time Senior SW Engineer positions pay as low as 80K per year, and with firms like Airbus and HP.

      • Ahuehuete

        The rest of the world protects their job base and restricts immigration, but expects us to hand over our jobs to them, and if we refuse we get lectured on how we’re “protectionist”, as if protecting what is yours is a bad thing.

        Globalists can go get stuffed.

  2. Grendel fenris

    Jobs change, how many milkmen are around, or lamplighters? Immigration happened for centuries before this, in the US, if you’re not a native american, you are the descendant of immigrants. I’d be more concerned about AI gaining self awareness, and deciding it doesn’t need us, and wipe us out.
    It’s not robots, or a man from another country that will kill your job, it’s rich head honchos, making idiotic decisions, that give them a million dollar bonus, and screw everyone else.

    • mike wassermann

      Sorry, but go update you history lesson, but Middel Eastern people, Asians and Nordic people came to America as well.

      My family imigrated here Leagally, so don’t tell me I am a racist.

  3. The greatest danger to YOUR job is YOU not keeping up with societal and technology changes. This isn’t difficult folks: only YOU are responsible for YOUR career. Don’t blame others or circumstances, for crying for loud!!!

    • wageSlave

      I have to disagree Leo, staying on the bleeding edge is quite difficult and very expensive. If you are making 35 an hour and a 1000 hours a year are required to stay on the bleeding edge that is $35,000 dollars a year in lost opportunity costs. There is a reason a lot of IT workers don’t know their children. They are busy trying to stay on the bleeding edge just to stay employed.

    • John Connor

      Just for now:

      AWS and Virtual jobs will be Gone from this country, government needs to Block that port from India or China, and no more job offers for you sir, just wait, just wait…

  4. It is amazing how many of us look around and try to put blame on everything while the Pink Elephant in the living room keeps breaking the furniture. The Elephant is government at all levels and the most important the massive corruption of and in the Federal Government. In actuality the average CITIZEN does not have a Federal government. We line under some massively corrupt, distorted, twisted perversion of the government the Founders created.

    ALL – not some but ALL the problems we have in the country were created by the insane policies created by Congress, Presidents and the Federal courts including the most morally and civilly bankrupt one of all the so-called “Supreme Court”. For example allowing massive numbers of people from countries who have demonstrated their fanatical beliefs to destroy – the radical Muslims. We have millions of Illegal Aliens who are functional illiterates in their own country, who have invaded our country, not vetted, not checked for diseases, unabated for decades. Ripping apart the social fabric, decimating our Public schools, importing drugs by the tons, importing gangs whose violence is beyond anything you can imagine and then DEMANDING their rights!? Flying foreign flags!? Defying our laws! And no they are not all picking lettuce. Millions are involved in crime, drugs, gangs and organizations whose members should be tried and arrested for Sedition.

    Every single member of Congress, the Presidency and the Courts are in violation of their oath of office. Who takes them to task? The massive bureaucracies create hundreds of thousands of “regulations” far beyond anything Congress intended in the Laws. Who takes them to task? The Federal Register added 61,949 pages in 2017 to the already totally incomprehensible millions of pages of Government laws, rules, regulations etc.

    The advertised national debt is about 20 trillion. With 20 trillion you could buy every item in every store in all of Europe and Scandinavia with some change to spare. Who created this massive anchor around the necks of the taxpayers?

    The Federal government has created the current situation where over 50% of the population pay no Federal (and probably state) taxes. We have a fifth of the population on food stamps. If we counted all the people who are directly or indirectly totally dependent on the Federal Government for their daily existence it probably comes to 50% of the population.

    We have all branches of the Federal government and their Lap Dog Big Media all arrayed against the better interest of all the citizens which not even the Bill Of Rights stands in the way. The exact scenario feared by the Founders of the Government becoming the biggest enemy of the people (can you say Second Amendment?).

    So until, somehow we stop voting for criminals and elect Statesmen there is little hope of returning this country to the intent of the Founders where the peaceful, hard-working law abiding citizens can actually have “… life liberty and the pursuit of happiness…”. Otherwise it ends up like all Empires – in the dustbin of history.

    So quit your addiction to your cellphone, Facebook and other such mindless nonsense, raise your head, look around you and actually DO something to change all this.

    And further I say naught …

  5. John Connor

    Typical H1-B Consultants and Sponsors LIES:

    – We are Prime Vendor (Means: We have many ex-H1B contacts inside that company)
    Effect: Drop the prices

    – We are Certified (Means: Someone is certified in the company but not everybody)
    Effect: False expectations to the market

    – We are growing exponentially (Means: We are only a poor LLC and want more H1B’s slaves)
    Effect: Fake jobs

    – We want to hire just the rock stars (For the same price? So, pay us more!)
    Effect: Forget about A.I. for now and drop the prices!

  6. For years the low-end jobs in IT have been automated out of existence. Has anyone seen a “keypunch operator” lately? Have a lot of programmers been hired to write only in assembler lately? (I am not disputing that programmers still write in assembler but it is much less common than it was 30 years ago).

    It is reasonable to assume that high powered tools will reduce the number of “nuts and bolts” computer programmers openings on a percentage basis while the absolute number of computer programmer jobs could very well go up.

    Until AI can elicit the actual requirements after locating the actual stakeholders for an IT project an AI will not be able to “replace” IT software developer teams. What AI could more easily do is all the “routine” coding, “routine” coding optimization tasks and “routine” quality assurance tasks that we now pay humans to do.

    Anything that requires extreme attention to detail might become a potential AI job.

    Some speculation I have read assumes that once AI has reached the “take off” point that only high-level genius is going to employable. This also ignores the idea of “the singularity.”

    Some other speculation speculates that the high-end AI’s might choose to not bootstrap up into the singularity. They are our children. And maybe they want to stay with family.

    So what kind of training and jobs will the “new” be/need ln 2020?


  7. Van Lepthien

    Age discrimination is more of a threat to those of us who have been around for a while. Sometimes it’s blatant, sometimes it’s subtle. I’ve gotten stink-eye when I show up for an in-person interview at a company whose oldest employee appears to be in their 30’s. At another company, after doing very well in the technical interview, the hiring manager made repeated comments about “we are a young team”.
    I see a couple of reasons why. One is straight age discrimination – a lot of people don’t think someone over 40 can keep up, ignoring evidence to the contrary. The other is more insidious – I think there is actual fear of hiring someone who knows more than the hirer. What someone who is older often offers is a more extensive knowledge of how things do (and should) work.

  8. Mel Brooks

    As always the truth is in the history.
    Some 30 – 40 years programming was largely manual job for relatively small amount of people. Now with enormous progress in computers, Internet, IT, software development process automation the number of people employed in the software business has increased exponentially. Just imagine if we add AI to the list, than the area of problems to solve( example: driving a car or a train) with software will grow and the demand for the people who will drive this will grow. The logical conclusion is that education , new modern merit based immigration system , not existing one, corruption based H1-B, will provide stream of talent and will allow the people to make transition from low demand to high demand jobs.