AI Is Driving More Layoffs Than Companies Want to Admit

United Parcel Service Inc.’s largest layoffs in its 116-year history were made possible, in part, by new technologies including artificial intelligence, CEO Carol Tomé said last week. Citing one example, she said that machine learning allows salespeople to put together proposals without having to ask pricing experts for guidance.

UPS is among a growing number of companies facing an AI two-step of sorts: Showing investors how AI helps do more with less while simultaneously avoiding the fear-mongering that comes with directly linking technology with job cuts. A UPS spokesperson later said AI is not replacing workers, and that executives did not make an explicit connection between AI and the permanent layoffs on the company’s earnings call.

BlackRock Inc. last month said it would dismiss about 600 employees. In a memo to staff, CEO Larry Fink and President Rob Kapito pointed to dramatic industry shifts “and perhaps most profound, new technologies are poised to transform our industry — and every other industry.” While Fink has been outspoken about his belief in AI’s potential to turbocharge productivity, the new tech was not cited as a reason for the cuts. The asset manager still expects to have a larger staff by the end of the year as it expands certain parts of the business, according to the memo.

Experts struggle to get an accurate picture of just how many jobs are being eliminated as AI rapidly advances. Since last May, US companies have announced more than 4,600 jobs cuts in order to free up resources to hire people with AI experience or because the technology replaced tasks, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. But that estimate is “certainly undercounting” the true total, Senior Vice President Andrew Challenger said in an interview.

Few Job Cuts Directly Attributed to AI

“There are probably more jobs in the economy that are being cut because of AI already than are getting attributed to that or announced. Every time a company mentions it, they get headlines across every news outlet for like a month,” Challenger said. “They would rather go under the radar most of the time.”