Will AI End Your Career?
By Julie Norwell
Artificial intelligence is everything, everywhere, all at once. Sure, for years, people have predicted a tidal wave of change due to automation, artificial intelligence, and digitization. Since November 2022, though, when OpenAI launched ChatGPT, the media has been on fire with daily headlines portending the end of work as we know it – and the end of many jobs.
In March, OpenAI supercharged that conversation by releasing GPT-4, the next iteration of its large language model (LLM). Offering human-level performance in various academic benchmarks, it “blows Chat 3.5 out of the water” said PC Magazine. It didn’t just pass the Bar Exam, for example, it scored in the 90th percentile.
In a study OpenAI published soon afterwards, it estimated that 19% of U.S. jobs could be significantly impacted going forward. As many as 80% of workers could have at least 10% of their work tasks affected by the technology. “The projected effects span all wage levels, with higher-income jobs potentially facing greater exposure to LLM capabilities and LLM-powered software.” The document included a list of professions most likely to be disrupted, ranging from writers, to lawyers, to blockchain engineers.
Not surprisingly, 62% of job seekers responding to a recent ZipRecruiter survey said they were concerned that ChatGPT and artificial intelligence (AI) could replace their jobs. How concerned should we be?
It’s tempting to worry about the ramifications on our careers at the advent of an unfamiliar, blockbuster, new technology. And we’d be fooling ourselves to think that big changes aren’t on the horizon. But there are lots of reasons to suggest that, far from being a bogeyman, AI has the potential to transform our jobs and our lives in exciting and rewarding ways.
We’ve Been Here Before
The first thing to remember is that we’ve been here before. While we can’t know the future impact of AI, specifically, historical precedent offers compelling insight into what to expect. When it comes to revolutionary technologies, there is a common refrain: A great fear that people will lose jobs, followed by a realization that the technology has created new jobs – typically more than it has destroyed.
Consider the changes other major technologies have had on the job market, such as the automobile. Automobiles led to a decline in streetcar operators, railway employees, and horse-related jobs. But they created heaps of new industries and millions of jobs in auto manufacturing, transportation, delivery, and others.
More recently, the rise of the personal computer has had a profound impact on the job market. Typists, switchboard operators, and any number of clerical jobs have been eliminated. In their place have come computer programmers, software developers, IT technicians and legions of support staff.
In 2013 a University of Oxford study famously claimed that 47% of U.S. jobs were at risk of becoming automated over the next 20 years. Ten years on, it’s notable that the U.S. economy has ADDED millions of jobs. Moreover, the unemployment rate has hit record lows.
In a recent deep dive on AI and its impact on jobs, The Economist observes, “[L]abour markets across the rich world are historically tight—and getting structurally tighter as societies age. There are currently two vacancies for every unemployed American, the highest rate on record.” A sudden dislocation in job markets cannot be ruled out, but so far there is no sign of one.
AI Is a Tool, not a Threat
Some people say our problem is that we don’t have enough technology. “Despite all the dazzling digital advances, the trillions of dollars spent on computer technology have done almost nothing to make the world a more productive place,” writes Louis Hyman, professor and historian of work and business at Cornell University and director of the Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. Hyman points to the “productivity paradox,” a phenomenon in which productivity growth actually slowed in the decade after the 1987 computer revolution.
Hyman argues that sluggish economic productivity would surge if workers could “tap into the computer’s true power – automation.” It would also make work more appealing because automating the tedious aspects of a job would enable people to do more rewarding tasks. For Hyman, the arrival of generative AI, like ChatGPT, is just the ticket.
Instead of eliminating many white-collar jobs altogether, as people are understandably worried it will do, [generative AI] has the ability to do something much more powerful: to eliminate what’s boring about those jobs, freeing us up to be more stimulated, more creative, and more human in our work. In the process it can drastically increase productivity…Workers all just got their own personal tech consultant. They just need to learn to use it.
Indeed, plenty of people experimenting with ChatGPT report that they can complete work way faster and more easily. They liken it to a smart assistant rather than a threat. One tech journalist described ChatGPT as like having a “jetpack strapped to his work.”
In one study conducted by doctoral students at M.I.T., experienced professionals in human relations and marketing fields were asked to do tasks that typically take them 20-30 minutes. Those using ChatGPT did the work 37% faster, on average, than those who didn’t. What’s more, they reported a 20% job satisfaction increase.
Yet another study focused on a generative AI designed for software developers called Copilot. Developers using Copilot completed their task 55% faster than those who did not. Who wouldn’t love a new tool that enabled them to shift their job performance into hyperdrive?
Still Plenty of Challenges
Not every person will pivot as easily as these early adopters, of course, but adapting will be the key to weathering the coming changes. At the same time, there are still plenty of challenges before AI technology will see wide adoption by employers.
If history is a guide, corporate inertia on the part of companies with legacy systems will likely slow advancement. Many companies will also have reservations about new technologies without assurances that they won’t compromise higher priorities, like protecting consumer privacy and securing confidential data. Several Wall Street banks, for example, are banning employee use of ChatGPT.
Then there is the vexing challenge of bias, which has been unintentionally built into the technology. It must be eradicated if users are to trust it. Even more problematic is ChatGPT’s wont to produce content peppered with factual errors – sometimes egregious fabrications. Tech news site, CNET, for example, has had to issue corrections on 41 of 77 stories written using ChatGPT. Such problems will be a nonstarter for organizations valuing reliability until the bugs are worked out.
Proceed but Don’t Over Pivot
So how should one react to the coming tidal wave of AI? “Proceed but don’t over pivot.” That is the recommendation from Bern Elliot, expert on AI at management consulting firm, Gartner. We are at a very early stage of ChatGPT and “much of what you are hearing is hype.” That said, Elliot admits, the potential is significant.
In the face of workforce disruptions, good practice is always to be proactive versus reactive. How? Explore generative AI for yourself and experiment with how it might help you in your work – and in your life. A recent article in the New York Times documents 35 ways that people are already doing so – to impressive effect. (In fact, in the spirit of this article, your humble author employed ChatGPT for the first time in writing it!)
As in past technological sea changes, you may well have to reskill or upskill. But there are resources for you to do that. LinkedIn, for example, recognizing how important building AI-related skills will be to navigating “virtually every role and industry,” is offering over 100 AI courses free through June 15, 2023. Check them out. Get the lay of the land. And consider a strategy to stay relevant.
Most importantly, remember that the question of the hour is not, “Will AI end my career?” but “How will AI transform my career?”
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