Sunday, February 25, 2024

The impact of ChatGPT and generative AI on jobs of today and tomorrow

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Let me take you back in time.

An invention was unveiled in the early 1900s. Further developments around it brought about the magic of being able to connect with anyone around the world. The excitement was immense; so was the fear of the unknown. The innovation was radio.

In 1936, the magazine Gramophone said this about the impact radio had on children: “… developed the habit of dividing attention between the humdrum preparation of their school assignments and the compelling excitement of the loudspeaker.” (Source: A 2010 article from Slate, which spoke about the fears accompanying every new technology dating right from the printing press.)

Cut to the present time.

The furore around ChatGPT and other innovations in generative AI — be it Google’s Bard or other new AI image tools — can be equally exciting for some and overwhelming for many others.

From the point of jobs, let us look at the two sides of the story: the companies’ side and the jobseekers’ side.

The companies
Every company is trying to understand what could be its scope and play in this new technology even as generative AI takes artificial intelligence mainstream faster than many had thought would be possible.

Bill Gates, in his recent article, “The Age of AI has Begun”, spoke about the possibilities this can have to reduce the world’s worst inequities — be it in healthcare, education or other areas.

Accenture’s recent report, “A new era of generative AI for everyone”, has stressed on the need for companies to develop a strong digital core and to make investments in people as they unlock the value in a responsible way.

The report said that 98% of global executives believe that AI foundation models would play an important role in their organisations over the next 3-5 years; and that 40% of working hours could be impacted by large language models such as GPT-4.

The jobseekers
Multiple reports today boldly state which jobs are going to be at risk due to the advent of GPT-4 and other generative AI tools. Yes, these tools can write, code, create images and answer questions — all in a fraction of seconds.

And yes, the impact of this will be felt across sectors and jobs. But the fact is none of us can predict the impact exactly. Previous technology innovations have shown us the danger of overestimating the short-term impact and underestimating the long-term impact of such changes.

Before we make doomsday predictions about how this tech will make some jobs disappear, let’s pause the panic button and look at the real picture.

The use cases are still emerging and will get contextualised further. While many work streams could see real productivity benefits with the use of these tools, we will definitely see more human-machine collaboration than competition in the short-to-medium term.

For example, GPT-4 can generate an article with a prompt. A human might still need to edit it, add more context and then finalise it for use. Indeed, there could be issues with accuracy if we depend only on these tools. Besides, if companies and people start using such tools indiscriminately, the resulting solutions will start resembling each other instead of being unique and different.

So what it means for aspiring and current employees is the need to keep upskilling themselves to become better at what they do.

Keep building the peer network of learning and support and keep oneself updated about the new changes in technology and how it is getting used.

Being able to ask questions, solve problems, collaborate, communicate and have deep functional skills will remain critical for most white-collar jobs. As will human creativity. Maybe generative AI will be a coworker for many of us.

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