What Is a 'Safe Job' in the Age of Automation?
Surviving the AI Job Tsunami
Throughout humanity’s progress, we have come across many technologies that have simplified our lives. By leveraging and outsourcing our muscles we can plow the fields faster, lift heavier things and reorganize the physical world around us to our design. Thanks to our understanding of the universe, physics chemistry, and biology we can feed more people cure diseases, create new materials, and rearrange the very pillars of life with our own hands.
A lot of people are fearing AI’s usage in complex and very high-demand tasks, but with the development of technologies like this and the capabilities of AI platforms for other tasks beyond text generation, it can be embedded into many other applications such as summarization and classification of data. As well as small and limited interactions with humans such as customer services when combined with AI-generated voices can make these interactions seem more and more frictionless and customized to the person on the other side.
Exposure to these General Purpose Technologies (GPTs) is more and more a proxy for the enhancement of productivity for workers and eventual automation of the labor force to maintain and even increase current levels of productivity in companies and other organizations. The world economy is going to be in for a wild ride but are humans going to be a substantial part of it or not?
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Using the capabilities of AI platforms for text generation with a deep enough database fed to it, LLMs will be able to learn, replicate, and remix almost any writing style. Soon we might see creative endeavors done purely by AI. just like we have seen the impact (and controversy) that AI-generated art has brought unto the scene these past few months we will see more and more projects of entertainment using AI writers, AI animators, and AI voice actors to bring forth fully automated productions that can improve and target better and better specific audiences taste in almost any genre.
Without any doubt we will start seeing the influence and penetration of AI in all human endeavors in the coming years (if we aren't already) probably at first it could be subtle because even though it is a topic with a lot of attention by the media, the rise of investment in this industry will probably skyrocket in the coming years.
On the one hand, I think we will see a rise in productivity once the most simple and direct implementations of these tools become more commonplace. More and more knowing how to work alongside AI tools will be a differentiation factor in the job market because working without AI will be like people refusing to get a computer in the 90s. People will work faster and better, which at first could be a great thing for most organizations.
But sooner rather than later managers and supervisors will notice that maybe not so many people are required for doing some tasks on a team when AI becomes an assistant to everyone. Then the threshold will be passed and not only positions but jobs and entire professions will be less and less necessary for most organizations.
And according to most projections, the jobs that are more likely to be enhanced by AI tools are also the ones that will fastly be overtaken by AI.(is this a foreshadowing of humanity's destiny as well?)
Human to Human Interactions
We might falsely believe that jobs that require direct interaction with other people might be a safer choice to pick when considering a career in today’s world or to comfort ourselves that the decision we’ve made was the correct one given the current position and the future shifts in the job market.
Jobs in the nursing industry, healthcare, or retail might seem like a place that will remain still in human hands but as we see that is not the case. When companies are able to fire 90% of their customer support and replace it with an AI you know that jobs in that industry are hanging by a very weak thread. And the research points out that this will not be an isolated case but the beginning of a larger trend of jobs being automated and humans being replaced.
Or for example, Public Relations experts whose jobs are based on human communications and human interactions are using more and more AI to develop innovative solutions for sensing and identifying trends in the semantics used by their customers and the market in itself. But also on the producing side with AIs being trained for PR double-speak which could enhance the productivity of a single PR professional in the works of an entire agency.
What is a “Safe Job” in the Age of AI?
Ironically so far the concept of a “safe” job option differs so much from what most of us would consider a good career choice. According to OpenAI’s research alongside the University of Pennsylvania, the jobs without any least overlap of the evaluating metrics of a potential “influence” (that a good euphemism for replacement) of an AI such as ChatGPT are jobs like Meat, Poultry, and Fish Cutters and Trimmers, Dredge Operators, Tire Repairers and Changers and other “low skilled” manual jobs and that let’s be honest they are not high paying jobs (mostly).
So the irony is that if we see today is that the replacement and automation of humans in the workforce is one of two things either, human brains being automated and overtaken by artificial intelligence or “low-skilled” manual labor being automated by robotics. The is only viable to use humans because they are cheaper, but no doubt the moment a robot could easily automate human manual labor, whether a general purpose android or a specific “dumb” machinery it WILL happen.
Again this is almost an inevitability if we look at it from the company's perspective for as long as it is still profitable and not a necessity companies will NOT hire more workers unless that worker brings something of value higher than the wage that they receive at the end of the month. Because if not it is not a good allocation of resources to pay that person. So If we see software that for a reduced price could do the job (even if not perfectly but just GOOD ENOUGH) as 1 employee or 10 or 100 a company will and should fire the people and use the software. Because the goal of a company is not to create jobs but to be profitable and stay alive in solving a problem with products or services.
So also we should consider do we want to have safe steady jobs or have enough income to sustain ourselves and our lifestyle. This choice has always been correlated but maybe in the future things will change and we might have to question our value outside of our jobs as humans.
How can I stay competitive?
I wish I knew this we are all still living in a somewhat stable world but looking forward ( and I don’t want to come off as a doomer but..) it does not look very bright future for the concept of job creation and making a living through jobs when more and more we are developing techn9ology that is eliminating jobs faster than newer jobs are created or the asymmetry of creative destruction and job creation is getting bigger and bigger.
The only logical pathway to move forward is to incorporate more and more of these tools into our day-to-day lives to sustain our competitiveness in the job market, just like knowing how to use basic tools like Excel, is now given in any job posting soon enough the usage of AI platforms will be the base for most workers in the coming years.
Another potential scenario is the impact AI tools are having in the job market is the elimination of entry-level positions (or the reduction of its numbers) This is because in most companies entry-level positions are repetitive tasks that require little to no in-depth training but a good place for workers to get experience and acumen with the industry, the dynamics within an organization and their network within the group to later on build upon their skills and interest a pathway towards a career development (or at least in theory)
So if more and more entry-level jobs are automated how could a freshly graduated individual be able to find themselves with a job that could provide the experience they need to make the jump towards a mid-level job or rise amongst the ranks of a company? Probably or companies will feel this is a need and keep “training jobs” open even though they might be automated to train and have a pipeline of new workers that could fill mid to higher-level roles, or maybe the responsibility of learning and getting the much-needed experience would come from freelancing entrepreneurial workers who on their spare time or as a side hustle decided to learn the skills for their future positions with a healthy disregard for the corporate ladder.
Or maybe the accelerated rate of automation will be so much that any attempt at fighting of this or trying to keep humans working in companies will seem like a fanciful dream from simpler times, we will have to wait and see how things develop in the future.
And what then can we do?
Sadly, the horizon of possibilities isn't as wide as one would think. Do we make AI tools illegal or do we do a worldwide moratorium? (Something that WILL NOT happen, and also that pause period will be taken advantage of by any country that doesn't follow the moratorium) We can develop redistribution policies for the unequivocally large capital gains AI companies will be having in the coming years and use that as the basis for a "Universal Basic Income"(which has been met with inconsistent results so far)
But as we’ve discussed previously how does that work for example when a company from Silicon Valley has left 5.000 IT workers from India out of a job as coding outsourcers? How do you redistribute that? Or even if you managed to efficiently calculate an amount how do you track and distribute that income to nations with a track record of corruption and inefficient bureaucracy?
Even though dreams of a future with a global government seem interesting and nice, the practicality of that is too much for current human institutions to be able to handle on a planetary scale. Maybe then we once again will need AI tools to assist the very same policies created to "fight" against the changes that AI will. bring forth. But also the risk of putting AI tools in positions of political power is complicated when we consider ANY scenario of an alignment problem.
At the end of the day, I am an optimist by heart and I DO believe that AI is an incredible tool to further accelerate humanity’s march forward towards bigger dreams but in the process of becoming and achieving what we can become, it is going to break a lot of things in its path from the institutions we have relied upon for generations to our conceptions of value, towards the very definitions of ourselves as a species. But change is the only fixed thing we can expect from life and we will have to learn to adapt to an ever-changing world in the coming years.
Probably most of us will be jobless, and that might be ok, probably social and economic systems will buckle due to the changes we are seeing today and we will need to proactively experiment and try different alternatives until we find the solution to the crises we will be facing. Because if we continue with the inertia of doing business as usual we will either run headfirst into a global social and economic crisis (as if we needed more of those) or miss out on the opportunity to accelerate and advance humanity to the highest standards we could have ever dreamed of. Regardless we have to experiment and try out new things, new ideas, and new institutions that will be birthed for the new world we are creating.