A recent report by Goldman Sachs predicted that AI could replace the equivalent of 300 million full time jobs. What might the future hold for the job market?
Strikes by Hollywood actors may seem a million miles away from working life in the UK, but their cause is one we can relate to. A huge number of writers and actors are protesting against the possibility their jobs could be replaced by artificial intelligence, taking away the livelihoods of many in the industry. They are not alone, according to a recent report by investment bank Goldman Sachs. It found that as many as 300 million jobs could be replaced by generative AI tools like ChatGPT, as the technology becomes more sophisticated.
AI itself is nothing new, but recent advances in the technology mean it can complete more complex tasks such as writing policies or coding a software programme in a fraction of the time it would take a human employee. As well as taking over repetitive tasks such as classifying data or searching databases, AI tools can now perform tasks previously reserved for human employees, like composing reports or creating designs for a marketing campaign.
The headlines are startling, but even Goldman Sachs concedes that for most employees, fewer than half of their day-to-day tasks will be automated. More physical jobs would see the lowest levels of disruption, with only 6% of tasks in construction likely to be performed by AI.
Yossi Sheffi, a Professor of Engineering Systems at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes there is cause to be optimistic rather than concerned. “Every industrial revolution has created more jobs than it has lost. What we don’t always know is what those new jobs will be,” he explains. He uses the example of when cars became cheaper and more mass market; shops and restaurants on highways thrived and thousands of hospitality jobs emerged as a result. The prediction from Goldman Sachs should also be taken with a pinch of salt, he adds, as AI will be subject to increased regulation, unions will fight against widespread job losses, and social acceptance of machines taking over more sophisticated tasks will take time.
In some industries, earlier AI tools such as voice assistants are already making positive changes. A report from care home review site carehome.co.uk found that more than half of care staff think smart devices with AI can help care for residents, helping them regain some autonomy to control their environment or call friends and family. Away from the front line, AI can support administrative teams to perform processes more quickly and cheaply, such as managing payroll or writing policies, so these staff are freed up to do more fulfilling work.
Software engineers can spend less time on generating initial mock-ups, as new AI tools can do this for them. A study by McKinsey found that software engineering teams who were trained to use generative AI tools reported a better work experience and more fulfilment at work because they did not need to spend as much time on the initial generation of code.
Putting AI to work
“In most cases, AI won’t replace workers; it will help them become more efficient and give their employers a significant boost in productivity,” says Dr Ventsislav Ivanov, an AI expert and lecturer at Oxford Business College. “Many of us are already using AI in our workplace, whether that’s using autocomplete to speed up the email-writing process, or using digital voice assistants like Siri or Alexa to answer our queries.”
Small businesses can get ahead of the AI revolution by identifying time-consuming or mundane processes that could be carried out more efficiently with AI tools, Ivanov adds. These might include transcribing phone calls; managing diaries; automating invoicing and payroll; and data entry. AI could also help entrepreneurs to create new jobs by accelerating the growth of their businesses.
However, it’s also important to consider the limitations of AI, and to research and trial the tools available, particularly in such a fast-growing market. Some of the challenges noted so far by experts include the quality of data, which can be opaque, inaccurate or outdated; ethical concerns over inbuilt biases and lack of transparency in how the systems are built; and data security concerns introducing legal risks.
Looking to the future, it will be important to consider AI when choosing a career path, and to keep an open mind about what AI can do for businesses. If AI can “replace” the job of junior programmers or lawyers, for example, how do we ensure there is still a pipeline of talent for the senior roles?
New jobs will emerge in areas such as data protection, ‘prompt engineering’ (how to ask AI chatbots questions to achieve the best results), and fact-checking, while certain sectors such as nursing will always need a human touch. “Humans and machines will work together, with the machine doing the simple stuff, and the humans managing the interventions if something goes wrong,” Professor Sheffi concludes.