A new study from MIT’s Media Lab posits that the smaller the city, the greater the impact it faces from automation.
Other researchers have attempted to measure the effect of technology on employment in cities, but the Media Lab authors, who have identified which jobs and skills tend to be more prevalent in smaller cities and larger ones, claim to be the first to explain why different U.S. cities are more susceptible to technological unemployment.
Smaller cities have a disproportionate amount of routine clerical work, such as cashier and food service jobs, which are more susceptible.
“Big cities provide greater opportunities for synergies among creative, highly technical people, and that’s why they attract them,” explains Iyad Rahwan, an associate professor at MIT and the corresponding author of the paper.
“The other dynamic is that cashiers and waiters are less idle in big cities than small cities, so large cities need fewer of them in proportion to their size.” As a result, he says, large cities have fewer routinized occupations that are more likely to be automated and relatively more technical and managerial occupations, which are less likely to be impacted by automation.
Morgan Frank, an MIT researcher who co-wrote the Media Lab report, says these cities are surprisingly resilient to the costs of automation because they house major institutions that employ skilled workers, such as an Air Force base, Cornell University, and an HP research lab.
Though the study uses the same occupation-level predictions as the Oxford paper, it offers an “Expected job impact” percentage for 380 cities rather than calculating an overall technological unemployment number for the entire U.S. The Media Lab study also attempts a broader analysis of automation than the other MIT paper, which was written by two economics professors.