The Future of Work is Here

The Future of Work is Here

We need a balanced approach to maximise the benefits of AI while minimising its potential drawbacks, creating a future where humans and AI can coexist and prosper

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is no longer the stuff of science fiction; it’s a reality that’s reshaping our economy, our jobs, and even the way we communicate. But as we stand on the cusp of a new era, we must ask: What does the future hold for human workers in an AI-driven world?

Trying to understand how AI will affect work is like trying to hit a moving target because the capabilities of AI are still advancing. A classic example of how AI capabilities continue to advance are the recent improvements in AI language modelling. In particular, ChatGPT, a language modeler released by Open AI in late 2022, has garnered a huge amount of attention and controversy.

A staggering pace of AI development

Given the staggering pace of generative AI development, it’s no wonder that so many executives are tempted by the possibilities of AI, concerned about finding and retaining qualified workers, and humbled by recent market corrections or missed analyst expectations. They envision a future of work without nearly as many people as today. But this is a miscalculation.

Some worry about the negative effects of tools like ChatGPT on jobs, as in the New York Post article headlined “ChatGPT could make these jobs obsolete: ‘The wolf is at the door.’”2 Others see practical and commercial promise from language modelling. For example, Microsoft announced a $10 billion partnership with Open AI and has linked ChatGPT with its Bing search engine. Google felt compelled to demonstrate its own language modeler, Bard, but mistakes during the demonstration led Google’s stock price to drop 7%. However, at present, most of this is speculation.

The AI Occupational Exposure Measure

Ed Felten (Princeton) Manav Raj (University of Pennsylvania) Robert Seamans (New York University) teamed up to study which professions will be impacted by AI. They used a methodology developed by Felten et al (2018, 2021). They created the AI Occupational Exposure (AIOE) measure and used this measure to identify which occupations, industries and geographies are most exposed to AI. According to the 2021 study, the AI Occupational Exposure (AIOE) is a measure of each occupation’s “exposure” to AI. The term “exposure” is used so as to be agnostic as to the effects of AI on the occupation, which could involve substitution or augmentation depending on various factors associated with the occupation itself.

The researchers found that top occupations affected included telemarketers and a variety of post-secondary teachers such as English language and literature, foreign language and literature, and history teachers. We also find the top industries exposed to advances in language modelling are legal services and securities, commodities, and investments.

The AIOE measure was constructed by linking 10 AI applications (abstract strategy games, real-time video games, image recognition, visual question answering, image generation, reading comprehension, language modelling, translation, speech recognition, and instrumental track recognition) to 52 human abilities (e.g., oral comprehension, oral expression, inductive reasoning, arm-hand steadiness, etc) using a crowd-sourced matrix that indicates the level of relatedness between each AI application and human ability.

Data on the AI applications come from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which collects and maintains statistics about the progress of AI across multiple applications. Data on human abilities comes from the Occupational Information Network (ONET) database developed by the United States Department of Labor. ONET uses these 52 human abilities to describe the occupational makeup of each of 800+ occupations that it tracks. Each of 800+ occupations can be thought of as a weighted combination of the 52 human abilities. ONET uses two sets of weights: prevalence and importance.

Who Stands to Lose – or Gain?

According to recent studies, telemarketers and post-secondary teachers in English, foreign languages, and history are among the most “exposed” to AI language modelling. But exposure doesn’t necessarily mean replacement. For instance, telemarketers could use AI to better understand customer needs in real-time, while educators could leverage AI to create more engaging lesson plans.

The High-Wage Paradox

Interestingly, the research also found a positive correlation between higher wages and greater exposure to AI language modelling. This suggests that white-collar jobs, often considered secure and high-skilled, are not immune to the transformative power of AI. Could this be the end of the “safe job” as we know it?

The Industry Impact

Legal services, securities, and investments are among the industries most exposed to AI language modelling.This could mean a revolution in how contracts are drafted or how investment strategies are developed. But it also raises ethical and regulatory questions that we can’t afford to ignore.

A Call to Action

As AI continues to evolve, we must adapt our workforce strategies and educational systems to prepare for a future where AI complements human abilities. Policymakers, educators, and industry leaders need to collaborate to ensure that the workforce is equipped to thrive in an AI-augmented world.

The Bottom Line

AI language models like ChatGPT are a double-edged sword. They offer incredible opportunities for efficiency and innovation but also pose significant challenges to the job market. As we navigate this new landscape, we must strive for a balanced approach that maximises the benefits of AI while minimising its potential drawbacks.The future of work is not set in stone; it’s a narrative we are actively writing, it’s a future where both humans and AI will coexist and prosper.

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