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AI Is Coming For Your Job - Or is It?
ChatGPT cannot take every job away; figuring out how to position and play defense is a new work survival technique
By John P. Desmond, Editor, AI in Business
AI is starting to come for the jobs of real people, it seems.
Olivia Lipkin, a 25-year-old copywriter in San Francisco, was taken out as the only writer at a tech startup after her assignments dwindled over a period of months until she was let go in April, according to a recent account in The Washington Post.
“Whenever people brought up ChatGPT, I felt insecure and anxious that it would replace me,” she stated. “... those anxieties were warranted, and now I [am] actually out of a job because of AI.”
Sarah T. Roberts, an associate professor at the University of California in Los Angeles specializing in digital labor, sees the copywriter’s layoff experience as foreboding . “[AI] is coming for the jobs that were supposed to be automation-proof.”, sees a wave breaking, with AI “coming for the jobs that were supposed to be automation-proof.”
With its facility for churning out coherent nouns, verbs and predicates, ChatGPT is a threat to writers of social media and marketing content. While its propensity to sometimes hallucinate–describe made-up facts confidently–may not be such a great fit for law firms today, managers in some businesses are willing to risk a drop in quality to save some money on staff.
“In every previous automation threat, the automation was about automating the hard, dirty, repetitive jobs,” stated Ethan Mollick, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, to the Post. “This time, the automation threat is aimed squarely at the highest-earning, most creative jobs that … require the most educational background.”
IBM did nothing to assuage nervous workers this week. IBM CEO Arvind Krishna told Bloomberg News on Monday that the company will pause hiring for up to 7,800 jobs that have the potential to be replaced by AI. Non-customer-facing jobs, such as in human resources, finance and accounting, will be the first to be examined, he stated. He sees the transition happening gradually, with AI taking over up to 30 percent of the target jobs in five years.
Quoted in a report from Fox Business, Krishna stated, "I do believe, and I’ve said this before, that AI is going to replace many clerical white-collar jobs, and that’s the kind which I expect AI will replace over the next five years."
He added, “It’s not as simple as jobs go away;” over time, he expecdts the overall number of jobs at IBM to increase. "The number of jobs, though, perhaps in customer care, in coding, in business processes, in developing artificial intelligence is going to increase so much that the net increase is going to be positive while there’s a movement from one area to the other," Krishna stated.
Meanwhile, a report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that US employers cited AI as the reason 3,900 jobs were eliminated, 4.9 percent of all the job cuts in May, according to another recent account from Fox Business. It was the first time the company had listed AI as the reason for job loss.
WEF Predicts AI Will Help Create As Many Jobs as it Helps to Eliminate
Of course, some number of new jobs will be created as a result of technology change. The Future of Jobs Report 2023 from the World Economic Forum reports that a quarter of companies will see job decline from new technology adoption, while more than half will see job growth.
“Generative artificial intelligence is expected to be adopted by nearly 75 percent of surveyed companies and is second only to humanoid and industrial robots in terms of expectations of job losses, most likely to affect bank tellers, cashiers, clerks, secretaries and accounting staff,” stated Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the WEF, in a summary of the results.
The WEF is predicting job growth in education (three million jobs), agriculture (four million jobs) and overall as a result of a greater focus on resiliency over efficiency. For workers and students playing defense against ChatGPT and AI in general, “analytical and interpersonal skills, as well as the ability to understand and work with technology will be critical. Every student – regardless of their chosen fields – should aim to build these generalist skills to be ready for a rapidly changing future,” advised Zahidi.
Some Jobs Out of Reach for ChatGPT Today
Some jobs do not fit the profile of being susceptible to takeover by ChatGPT or AI. In financial services, for example, compliance officers need to be humans to meet federal reporting requirements.
“We are still a long way from handing things over to AI while we all go sit on a beach somewhere,” stated Charles Hearn, cofounder and CTO at Alloy, a platform that helps banks and fintech companies automate decisions, writing recently in VentureBeat.
Financial institutions are responsible for ensuring the safety of their customers’ assets, and for meeting legal obligations around know-your-customer and anti-money laundering requirements, for example. “ChatGPT/GPT-4 aren’t yet prepared to meet these critical risk priorities,” Hearn stated.
Other jobs he does not see as being a fit for elimination by ChatGPT include: making credit underwriting decisions, meeting a customer’s expectation they would be able to interact directly with a bank representative, designing new financial products and handling a crisis, such as a fraud attack.
“ChatGPT, GPT-4 and any future updates will be powerful tools that can help financial services companies in many ways,” Hearn stated. “However, these products aren’t able to replace some of the higher-touch, more nuanced parts of running a financial services business.”
The circumstance of Olivia Lipkin and the many job threat warnings suggest that workers would be well-advised to get their AI credentials up to snuff to be prepared for the shock waves rippling through the labor force in the coming weeks and months.
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