Is AI about to eat your job?
Last week Goldman Sachs predicted 300 million jobs would be lost or downgraded due to AI, including 46% of office workers, 44% of legal work and 37% of jobs in architecture and engineering.
300 million jobs. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s the equivalent of the workforces of the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain combined. It’s 20% more than the 250 million knowledge jobs worldwide. (Gulp.)
If this prediction is even remotely accurate, we’re in for Jobaggedon.
Like any patient receiving a frightening diagnosis, I looked for a second opinion. I asked ChatGPT itself “How many jobs will be replaced by AI?” It provided a very different answer, noting that by 2025 “the adoption of AI and automation will lead to the displacement of around 85 million jobs but also the creation of around 97 million new jobs globally.”
Hold on. The job-eating machine argues that it will create a net new 12 million jobs? My BS meter went off again. (And then I wondered if GPT-4 has indeed become sentient, for it just participated in that most human of activities: dissembling to cover its own ass. But I digress…)
Confusion abounds, but this much is clear: the disruption we expect from AI is now on par with that from the steam engine, assembly line or, more recently, the Internet and mobile. It will impact every life, every knowledge job, even how we interact with one another. It’s that big. And your 2030 self is going to look back on the 2023 version of you in judgment, asking “Knowing what you knew then, what did you do about it?”
To make sense of things looking forward, let’s take a quick look back a century to 1923:
100 years ago an ice cutter, farmer and teamster walk into a bar…and discuss what the assembly line means to them. The ice cutter, ordering a double with a chaser, is inconsolable. He laments, “We had a booming business. Thousands of us all across the north. Millions of loyal customers. Heck, we had 1,500 carriages in New York City alone carrying our ice to and fro. Now that damn refrigerator comes along, and we’re at zero. My job got f***ed.”
The farmer pats him on the back saying, “I feel your pain. Those tractors and harvesters came in and removed 80% of us from the farm. But we moved to the big city, and I got a job at the Ford plant. A big change for sure, but we like the steady pay and the community. And, hey, I get to sleep in until 6:00 AM!”
The teamster, barely containing his glee, chimes in with “Yep, we all thought the truck would replace us as well. But you know what? With the horse I could haul one ton about three miles an hour. Now I can take 20 tons anywhere in the country. Whole new markets have opened up. I never thought I’d be this busy or make this much money. And, best part, I’ll never shovel shit again!”
Getting back to you, are you the ice cutter, the farmer or the teamster? Is your job about to be eviscerated, changed completely, or turbocharged? You need to know now, and the answer will be found in looking at a.) your skills, and b.) the productivity of and market for your newly AI-infused job.
1. Jobs and Skills
Anybody who talks “AI and Jobs” doesn’t really understand the issue, for the job isn’t the right lens. Instead, one must look at the specific skills that combine to constitute a job, for when the AI wave hits, it will either eliminate or enhance specific skills.
For example, a data analyst has the following skills:
The top half of these skills will be partially or largely replaced by AI. For example, why take half a day to manually construct a complex spreadsheet when ChatGPT can do it in two minutes?
However, the more social and organization-specific skills (the bottom four) are the key elements that make a good data analyst truly effective. While these skills may be mildly enhanced, they will never be replaced by AI. These are interpersonal and judgment skills such as educating others on data-based insights, driving change within the cultural context of a company, and fully appreciating contingencies such as regulatory or ethical constraints.
As such, when AI hits the data analyst profession, it will act like the sorting hat at Hogwarts: the weak analysts (who hide behind Excel and tools) will be greatly at risk, whereas the strong ones (who create unique insights which drive change) will thrive.
2. Productivity, Total Addressable Market and Elasticity
Why did the teamster love the machine, while the farmer got displaced by it? Both of them saw equally massive productivity gains (with trucks and tractors). However the addressable markets for their end products were vastly different. That is, farming had relatively fixed output; there were only so many mouths to feed. When the new machine came, even if the productivity gains drove lower prices, excess farmers needed to find new jobs. (To put it in perspective, in 1900 40% of the US population lived on farms. Today it’s 1%.)
In contrast, the truck collapsed the cost of transport, creating new markets which, in turn, radically increased demand. Trucking made suburbia, malls, and big box retail possible. And as this economic pie got bigger, the ranks of truck drivers grew from 100,000 in 1910 to one million in 1920, to 3.5 million today.
To bring it to today’s white collar jobs, what will happen to paralegals when AI increases the productivity of the discovery process tenfold? Will there be far fewer paralegals (as there will be a fixed number of lawsuits), or will there be just as many paralegals–who are paid even more–as AI allows for a dramatically higher number of high-quality discovery processes to run in parallel? We’re about to find out.
Finding your future
So how do you determine the impending impact of AI for you personally, and what are the steps to take now?
First, here are two things you should NOT do:
Second, the two things you should do are:
However, you need to make it predictable for you. And (marketing alert!) this is precisely why we are launching TalentGenius. Our platform is purpose-built to help tech workers manage their careers through these times. We do it by monitoring and sharing the experiences of your peers (those in the same jobs, which we call a “guild”) and applying AI against the results. Armed with this knowledge, you will know exactly what AI is doing to your profession and what to do about it. View it as your own personal AI to take on the threat of AI, a sort ofWaze for your career.
So watch this space, as we launch the platform shortly. In the meantime, if you’re a Cloud professional, please take our survey (https://stateofclouddev.com/) for some preliminary views on how things are changing in that space.In summary, be paranoid…but also fully informed and optimistic. There will be great pain but also significant opportunity. Take the steps to ensure you’re on the right side of history.