Companies using it to innovate actually boost employment.

When pundits talk about the impact that artificial intelligence (AI) will have on the labor market, the outlook is usually bleak, with the loss of many jobs to machines as the dominant theme. But that’s just part of the story — a probable outcome for companies that use AI only to increase efficiency. As it turns out, companies using AI to also drive innovation are more likely to increase head count than reduce it.

That’s what my colleagues and I recently learned through the McKinsey Global Institute’s broad-based research initiative aimed at understanding the spread of AI in economies, sectors, and companies.1 We polled 20,000 AI-aware C-level executives in 10 countries to compile a sample of more than 3,000 companies (mostly large), identified distinct clusters within that pool, and ran a variety of scenarios on those clusters to project the effects of AI on employment, revenue, and profitability.

This research and analysis suggest that although AI will probably lead to less overall full-time-equivalent employment by 2030, it won’t inevitably lead to massive unemployment. One major reason for this prediction is because early, innovation-focused adopters are positioning themselves for growth, which tends to stimulate employment. (See “How AI-Based Innovations Drive Employment.”)

Here’s how we expect things to play out in the five clusters of companies we examined.

Enthusiastic innovators, or pioneering companies that make early investments in AI and embrace the disruption it can create in the quest for advantage, adopt a full range of AI technologies and use them to bolster innovation and efficiency. These companies are analogous to what sociologist and communication theorist Everett Rogers called “early adopters” back when he coined the term — they’re intrinsically motivated to use new technology to shape and open markets.2 While this approach is potentially complex in the short term, our analysis shows that by 2030, the profitability of enthusiastic innovators will grow 8% faster than that of the average company on an annual basis, their revenue will grow 4% faster, and their head count will rise 2.2% faster.

References

1. We define AI as the broad collection of technologies, such as computer vision, language processing, robotics, robotic process automation, and virtual agents, that are able to mimic cognitive human functions; J. Bughin, et al., “Artificial Intelligence: The Next Digital Frontier?” discussion paper, McKinsey Global Institute, June 2017.

2. E.M. Rogers, “Diffusion of Innovations,” (New York: Free Press, 1962).

3. J. Bughin and N.V. Zeebroeck, “The Best Response to Digital Disruption,” MIT Sloan Management Review 58, no. 4 (summer 2017): 80-86.