AI Replacing Human Jobs: An Update

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Several new developments in how companies are using AI paint a rather dark future for us all. AI is poised to replace humans in nearly all types of jobs and corporations are going to utilize it (and AI-based automation) to lay off people in masses.

On January 31, Satya Nadella (CEO, Microsoft) said in an interview with NBC that AI is all about empowering humans, not removing them. That’s the rhetoric the majority of companies funding AI labs and creating AI models seem to have adopted. Everyone knows that their stance isn’t exactly right. It’s common sense that any company will, in order to meet its bottom line and increase its profits, cut jobs if robots and software can do it better. If a single supervisor can use AI tools to do the job of a dozen people, it’s a dozen job cuts against one hire.

Earlier this month, Jon Stewart, who’s back at the helm of The Daily Show, called out the apparent hypocrisy of these companies. Likening AI to previous technological advances that promised utopian lives, he said that these technologies come for our jobs.

In the report, Stewart compiles clips of a bunch of CEOs slipping up and letting us know their near-future expectations of job cuts due to AI. One of the featured CEOs is Arvind Krishna, the CEO of IBM. He said, “We can get the same work done with fewer people. That’s just the nature of productivity” in his interview with CNBC.

Last year in August, it was IBM itself that announced 8,000 job cuts due to AI.

A bunch of companies are indeed shifting their back office, customer support, and other repetitive types of workloads to AI. It’s better, faster, and more efficient. Once trained and fine-tuned, it’s also free for the company. It doesn’t get tired and treats all customers or clients equally. Kind of similar to the arguments made in favor of machines during the industrialization of the West.

Just a few days ago, global economic forecasting firm Oxford Economics published the results of a poll on AI in collaboration with a staffing firm Adecco Group. 2,000 executives from 18 industries from the US, Canada, Germany, and Japan were polled. 41% of them expect to employ fewer people because of technology. Notably, Adecco Group published their Future of Work report in January, where they said, “A majority of workers want AI training from their companies.” CEO Denis Machuel wrote how his company’s study of more than 30,000 employees across 23 countries shows an astonishing 70% adoption rate of AI in the workplace.“

Last year, the World Economic Forum also conducted a survey of 800 companies (PDF). Over one-fourth of these companies expected job cuts due to AI. That was in May, 2023. Goldman Sachs also deduced something similar, estimating 300 million jobs to be affected by AI last year (Forbes | PDF).

Last month, researchers compared jobs that could be done by AI with jobs that humans do. Only 36 had no overlap with AI. Out of 1000+. These 36 job categories are highly physical jobs, such as construction workers. Commenting on this, a Wharton professor explained how AI can most likely take over the majority of jobs. Though he maintains that jobs won’t disappear, just as power tools don’t make carpenters irrelevant.

Larry H Summers, who has held prestigious positions in the US government’s Treasury, now serves as a board member of OpenAI. According to him (paywalled), AI can replace almost all forms of labor.

And if you’re thinking it’s mostly the big companies doing all this, think again. Generative AI tools offer the most remarkable advantages to smaller companies. These companies don’t have the resources to create content that can compete with the leaders in their industries. A Harvard Business Review article highlights how “Generative AI is arming smaller companies with once unattainable capabilities, which, if used strategically, may make the playing field more level.”

When small and big companies shift to AI for their own purposes, either to lay off thousands of employees or to compete with industry giants, it’s the job seeker who loses out on opportunities. The dominos have started to fall. And our only line of defense seems to be government bodies making policies and forming initiatives with the very corporations developing AI tools to regulate the market forces.

We’re past the tipping point. “Only time will tell what happens” is no longer a reasonable response to this. Time has told, and told aplenty. The rate at which generative AI is improving, we’re soon going to see some really tough challenges facing the job seekers of small and big markets alike.

By Abhimanyu

Unwrapping the fast-evolving AI popular culture.