2024: What is at Stake?

The ongoing globally significant events such as the Russia-Ukraine war, Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza, climate catastrophes, and the recently unveiled ChatGPT are challenging the wit of mankind.  

Of these, the potential of generative artificial intelligence (GenAI) is certain to have a profound impact on the labor market. It is feared to result in the elimination of many jobs, and the restructuring of many others. The effect is likely to be more acute among knowledge workers. Indeed, Fortune predicts that within 15 years chatbots, robots, and other AI bots are likely to replace 40% of all jobs. 

Over it, Gary Marcus, a New York University Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Science and a skeptic of the deep learning-centric approach to AI, argues that the AI systems “can easily be automated to generate misinformation at an unprecedented scale”, for literally there are “no mechanisms for checking the truth of what they say”. He is therefore worried that GenAI poses “a real and imminent threat to the fabric of society”. 

A study carried out in Indian banks — both private and public sector — reveals that AI in banks might heighten existing risks and also introduce new risks such as consumer protection concerns. The opaqueness of AI models is found to make compliance with laws, regulations, and internal controls more complicated. The study also warns that AI models may trigger market shocks, besides amplifying systemic risks owing to procyclicality.    

It is also feared that there will be a lot of shrinking occupations — about 80% of the occupational transitions are likely to be around jobs such as customer service, food service, production, and office support. Even jobs such as writers, lawyers, and consultants that lie on the higher end of the wage range are also likely to be affected by AI and they all need to work differently. Cumulatively, the number of people going to be affected is significant and frightening. One estimate by McKinsey puts such occupational transitions that are likely to happen between now and 2030 at around 80% of the existing numbers. 

Amidst these threats, as noted by Tojin T Eapen et al. in their Harvard Business Review article (July-August 2023), GenAI also offers the biggest advantage of augmenting human creativity and overcoming the challenges of democratizing innovation. The authors also claim that AI can help in supplementing the creativity of employees and customers and help them produce and identify novel ideas. According to them, “AI can promote divergent thinking, challenge expertise bias, assist an idea evaluation, support idea refinement, and facilitate collaboration among users”. 

Amidst these conflicting expectations—some worrying about the threat posed by GenAI and some marveling at its potential to make businesses more productive—one ends up wondering: Is the obsolescence of human beings the technological goal? Indeed, well-meaning people are challenged, nay prodded to ponder over the question raised by American novelist and poet Wendell Berry some five decades back: “What people are for?” 

This leads us to think about how to preserve the heart and spirit of people who are likely to be made obsolescent by AI. Of course, there is an answer: Encouragement from the employers for those employees who are likely to be affected by AI to acquire new skills so that they can repot themselves in other occupations. Such a massive reskilling and upskilling of those employees who become redundant can only happen under a kind of public-private partnership between companies and governments. 

Looking at the changing demographic pattern, consumption trends, and growing gross domestic product, one can safely presume a good rise in the number of jobs in the service sector, but they certainly call for higher levels of education. In this context, educational institutes have a bigger role to play in imparting new skills to this class of workers. 

Said that, we must also bear in mind the special needs of the less-privileged class of society — women, people from hitherto suppressed classes, rural youth, etc. — so that they are not outrightly excluded from the future job market. 

Stakes are no doubt, high. But they are not insurmountable. For, the fear of new technology evaporating jobs is after all as old as civilization. Here, it is worth remembering what Tojin T Eapen et al said: “AI’s greatest potential is to assist humans in their individual and collective efforts to create hitherto unimaginable solutions”. So, all that it calls for is a strong resolution among employers, employees, and the government to reequip the concerned to unlock the value embedded in AI’s revolutionary technology.


More by :  Gollamudi Radha Krishna Murty

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Views: 218      Comments: 1

Comment Thanks for an inspiring article sir. Your suggestion kindles hope.

T.S.Chandra Mouli
10-Feb-2024 11:07 AM

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