AI Can’t Do All Our Jobs for Us. But We Can Make It a ‘Superhero Sidekick’     – CNET

AI Can’t Do All Our Jobs for Us. But We Can Make It a ‘Superhero Sidekick’ – CNET

ai and the 2024 job market

If you don’t have experience with medical malpractice lawsuits, “Bourguignon v. Coordinated Behavioral Health Servs., Inc., 114 A.D.3d 947 (3d Dep’t 2014)” may sound like a perfectly legitimate case.

But as the lawyer who cited it in a New York court filing learned the hard way, generative AI tools like ChatGPT have a tendency to hallucinate, or make things up, when they don’t have an answer. 

It was bad news for that lawyer and her case, but good news for lawyers in general – and for all manner of professionals, white-collar or otherwise – who’ve been worrying about AI stealing their jobs. There’s still a lot humans can do that AI can’t. And there are likely to be plenty of opportunities for people to check AI’s work as well. 

But the fear of AI wiping out whole categories of jobs is real. A 2023 Gallup poll found nearly one-quarter of Americans were worried technology will make their jobs obsolete as businesses start to integrate generative AI and tap into its potential. 

Karin Kimbrough, chief economist at LinkedIn, the employment-focused social network, has good news for these workers.

“What we’re finding is … we’re [not] seeing a wholesale elimination of jobs,” she said.

Since OpenAI released ChatGPT in November 2022, the market has been flooded with generative AI tools from Microsoft, Google, Adobe, Meta and Anthropic, to name a few. What makes them unlike the technologies that preceded them is their humanlike qualities. Give them the right prompt, and they can write – in seconds – a business plan, a computer program, a summary of news events that sounds like one you might have written over the course of hours, days or weeks. They’re easy to work with, at least on the surface, and you can interact with them in a conversational way. 

In addition, most offer free versions, along with a premium experience for about $20 a month. That makes it easy for consumers and businesses alike to experiment with little to no investment – which is part of where the fear of job displacement originates. That, and the fact that, for all its shortcomings, ChatGPT can do some pretty impressive things, like pass the bar exam.

Which adds up to this: We’re at a point in history when we have a powerful new technology, but don’t quite know how to harness it or how it will affect our lives. The same was true of the Industrial Revolution. A generation or two in the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw transportation evolve rapidly from horses to automobiles and lighting shift from candles to electric bulbs. The telephone brought unprecedented immediacy to communications.

A century later, we’re in the midst of yet another societal revolution that may prove just as transformative to life and labor. The International Monetary Fund said earlier this year it expects 40% of global workers will be exposed to AI. In advanced economies, it’ll be 60% because of AI’s implications for high-skilled jobs. There will likely be choppy waters ahead.

The key to the transition, experts say, will be to foster a partnership between humans and generative AI, rather than a rivalry. The benefits of AI in the workforce could outweigh the disadvantages, even if some workers find their roles reduced or eliminated in the short term – never an easy outcome to accept – and they have to pivot to succeed in an AI-enabled job market.

“The whole mindset has to shift from fearing it and trying to isolate the AI to viewing it more as a collaborative partner,” said Jason Alan Snyder, global CTO of ad agency Momentum Worldwide. 

“You have this amazing new teammate,” said Snyder. “You don’t have a rival. You have a superhero sidekick that has all these amazing strengths and abilities that complement you.”  

AI-powered efficiencies

Here’s how the job market is evolving in these still early days of the gen AI era.

For starters, businesses are using AI for tasks like customer service and data entry, which aren’t generally the most fulfilling for human workers. AI can pull data from sources, like documents, audio and webpages, and it can process large volumes better and faster than its living, breathing colleagues.

As a consumer, you’re likely already encountering more and more chatbots as an initial company touchpoint, greeting customers, answering common questions and connecting users to agents when necessary. 

That could replace – or augment – job functions that involve “standard and repeatable processes,” as Snyder called them.

Or as Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter, put it, “Pretty much anything that involves words and doing an office job on a computer.”

That’s likely not welcome news for the estimated 160,000 data entry keyers in the US.

It’s also a tough break for the approximately 3.6 million US workers employed by call centers as of 2021. The industry had already been hit hard by offshoring, as US companies sought to cut costs by tapping into cheaper labor in countries like India and the Philippines. Now workers in these countries face their own disruption from AI.

But we are seeing examples of AI and humans working together.

In August, Walmart rolled out a generative AI tool called My Assistant to 50,000 employees to help them write first drafts, summarize large documents and spark creativity. It has since expanded to eight countries, including Canada and Mexico, with plans to add India and South Africa in 2024.

In a blog post, Donna Morris, chief people officer at Walmart, said My Assistant can free employees from “monotonous, repetitive tasks” and let them focus on the customer experience. 

At the US Department of Labor, chief AI officer Louis Charlier has a similarly optimistic view of humans and AI coexisting. In a blog post in February he detailed how his office is fostering a collaborative relationship.

Charlier likened AI to “a colleague who excels in crunching numbers and performing repetitive tasks,” which is why the Office of the Chief Information Officer uses AI to pore over datasets to identify potential cyberthreats for human employees to analyze. AI can also handle routine customer service inquiries. Meanwhile, he said, employees are freed up for opportunities like job training – including AI-related training.

In the world of software development, AI is being used for more mundane coding tasks so software engineers can focus on what Kimbrough called the “higher cognitive load work.” Generative AI tools can create code based on prompts describing what the code should do and they can translate code to different programming languages. They’re also adept at finding errors and vulnerabilities. (In March, AI startup Cognition Labs introduced Devin, which it described as the first AI software engineer.)

A 2023 study from developer platform GitHub found 92% of US-based developers are using AI coding tools at work and are optimistic about their potential. Four out of five expect these tools will make their teams more collaborative and 70% say AI coding tools offer benefits like better code quality, completion time and incident resolution.

Companies like Accenture, Koch Industries, JetBrains and SmugMug are a few examples of those using code generation tools. The Wall Street Journal reported last year that companies including Cardinal Health, Goldman Sachs, Johnson & Johnson, Truist, United Airlines and Visa had also expressed interest in AI-generated code or were testing it out.

Worrying about job losses

Understandably, when companies are looking for efficiencies, workers worry about job cuts. Industries like media and the arts are “already finding they can do a lot more with fewer people” thanks to ChatGPT, which not only generates content but can mimic voices, which could eliminate the need for voice actors to read full scripts, Pollak said. OpenAI’s experimental text-to-video converter, Sora, also seems to point to a future with limited opportunities for human animators, given how quickly the tool can create photorealistic imagery. 

AI was a central theme in the five-month Hollywood writers’ strike of 2023 as writers and actors sought to protect themselves from AI-generated text and images. In the contract they agreed upon in September, AI-generated stories are not considered literary material and writers will not have to compete with machines for credits.

Generative AI has also been bad news for freelancers, who are seeing reduced demand for writing and coding services, Pollak said. Instead of tapping a freelance writer, businesses can use AI tools to write at least a first draft of emails, text for social media posts, web and ad copy, press releases and product descriptions.

It may not have to be that way in all cases. Alternative scenarios are still on the table.

“You may also be able to do much, much, much more work if you keep the same number of people,” Pollak said. “And if a whole industry becomes more productive and more profitable, you may have a whole lot more people rushing in to do it.”

In its January report, the IMF noted that in advanced economies, roughly half the jobs exposed to AI “may benefit from AI integration, enhancing productivity.” (The other half could face reduced hiring, reduced wages or outright elimination.)

There’s a powerful attraction in the positive side of that equation. A September 2023 report from MIT, called “Can We Have Pro-Worker AI?” sees potential for what the authors call a “human-complementary path,” with generative AI is a partner. One key: Federal policies will have to be created to ensure that AI and human workers can coexist harmoniously.

“The goal should be to deploy generative AI to create and support new occupational tasks and new capabilities for workers,” the report says. “If AI tools can enable teachers, nurse practitioners, nurses, medical technicians, electricians, plumbers and other modern craft workers to do more expert work, this can reduce inequality, raise productivity and boost pay by leveling workers up.”

Human skills   

Despite the short-term challenges, workers in impacted industries and roles don’t necessarily have to go back to school to learn a new trade. That’s because human skills like creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, empathy and problem-solving will remain in demand.

In fact, the very definition of “skilled worker” may change.

“Anything that is about the ability to be human, to have creativity, to have empathy, to have all of those traits that are not robotic — those are the things that will be highly skilled,” Snyder said.

AI-related skills like programming, machine learning, data structuring, large language model training and prompt engineering will also be important. But 92% of executives polled by LinkedIn for its August 2023 Future of Work report said human skills are as important as ever.

“All these skills are rising in importance at the same rate as we’re seeing a demand for AI skills,” Kimbrough said. “The inspiration and innovation often that comes not from AI or generative AI but from true human innovation, like, where do we go next? What’s our next vision? All of those things are human and I think those won’t go away.”

Human judgment will remain vital, particularly in highly regulated fields like medicine. There, we could see professionals use AI to streamline their day-to-day workflows. Kimbrough doubts we’ll ever let AI make the decisions that, say, a doctor would, although it’s possible AI could help those professionals gather information to make their jobs easier.

Jobs that require human dexterity and physical activity – plumbers and locksmiths, dancers and physical therapists – are also somewhat insulated.

And as lawyers who use ChatGPT to generate court filings continue to wind up with egg on their faces, legal professionals can take heart that their expertise is unlikely to be threatened by AI either.

“You aren’t hiring a lawyer to have AI write your brief,” Kimbrough said. “You’re expecting this person to use a lot of judgment, philosophy, historical expertise, innovation and strategy to craft a case.” 

New jobs

At least in the short term, AI will increase demand for tech talent, like software engineers, data scientists and app developers. LinkedIn has seen a 21-fold increase in demand for AI talent since November 2022.

But, more broadly, Pollak pointed to “massive demand” among job posters for technologists “who can understand our business, understand the capabilities of the technology and help us figure out the [AI] puzzle.”

Those listings include titles like director of AI or head of AI. “That’s a new role that came out of nowhere,” Kimbrough said. Other AI job listings include ethicists, who “understand how to plug AI into different parts of the operation responsibly,” she said.

The Department of Labor’s Charlier pointed to additional never-before-seen roles like emotional intelligence consultants and “robot whisperers.”

And we likely haven’t seen the full breadth of AI-related jobs that will emerge. Two-thirds of the roles on LinkedIn’s 2024 list of fastest-growing jobs in the US didn’t exist 20 years ago. That includes positions like AI consultant and AI engineer.

The implementation phase

The pace of change is only going to accelerate. A year ago, executives were interested in generative AI, but it was still new and they hadn’t figured out how to deploy it.

“Now where we are is in the midst of trying to integrate it into business processes,” Kimbrough said. “We’re moving from the experimentation to the implementation phase this year.”

And because technological evolutions increase in speed themselves, she anticipates the current moment is a five-year phase.

“It’s early days in this journey,” Kimbrough said. “The signals in our data suggest that executives are very much thinking about how to match this with their human talent, how to train talent and they’re investing and not just looking for AI skills, but also looking for ways to train their own talent to use AI tools.”

While the arrival of AI may feel unprecedented, humans have long adapted to technological changes in the workplace and classroom – like calculators and word processors, not so long ago.

The best way to remain competitive in the job market, experts say, is to identify a few strengths AI can’t replicate and hone those talents.

“AI is nothing but a force multiplier and so when you view it as a tool to amplify your own capabilities, it handles all the tedious things and you’re freed up to focus on that higher-level thinking, creativity and innovation,” Snyder said. “That’s the opportunity.”

Editors’ note: CNET is using an AI engine to help create some stories. For more, see this post.

Lisa Lacy

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