Jobs Already Disrupted By AI


Until recently Dean Meadowcroft was a copywriter in a small marketing department.

His duties included writing press releases, social media posts and other content for his company.

But then, late last year, his firm introduced an Artificial Intelligence (AI) system.

"At the time the idea was that it would be working alongside human lead copywriters to help speed up the process, essentially streamline things a little bit more," he says.

Mr Meadowcroft was not particularly impressed with the AI's work.

"It just kind of made everybody sound middle of the road, on the fence, and exactly the same, and therefore nobody really stands out."

The content also had to be checked by human staff to make sure it had not been lifted from anywhere else.

But the AI was fast. What might take a human copywriter between 60 and 90 minutes to write, the AI could do in 10 minutes or less.

Around four months after the AI was introduced, Mr Meadowcroft's four-strong team was laid off.

Mr Meadowcroft can't be certain, but he's pretty sure the AI replaced them.

"I did laugh-off the idea of AI replacing writers, or affecting my job, until it did," he said.

The latest wave of AI hit late last year when OpenAI launched ChatGPT.

Backed by Microsoft, ChatGPT can give human-like responses to questions and can, in minutes, generate essays, speeches, even recipes.

Other tech giants are scrambling to launch their own systems - Google launched Bard in March.

While not perfect, such systems are trained on the ocean of data available on the internet - an amount of information impossible for even a team of humans to digest.

So that's left many wondering which jobs might be at risk.

Earlier this year, a report from Goldman Sachs said that AI could potentially replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs.

Any job losses would not fall equally across the economy. According to the report, 46% of tasks in administrative and 44% in legal professions could be automated, but only 6% in construction and 4% in maintenance.

The report also points out that the introduction of AI could boost productivity and growth and might create new jobs.

There is some evidence of that already.

This month IKEA said that, since 2021, it has retrained 8,500 staff who worked in its call centres as design advisers.

The furniture giant says that 47% of customer calls are now handled by an AI called Billie.

While IKEA does not see any job losses resulting from its use of AI, such developments are making many people worried.

A recent survey by Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which polled 12,000 workers from around the world, found that a third were worried that they would be replaced at work by AI, with frontline staff more concerned than managers.

Jessica Apotheker from BCG says that's partly due to fear of the unknown.

"When you look at leaders and managers, we have more than 80% of them that use AI at least on a weekly basis. When you look at frontline staff, that number drops to 20% so with the lack of familiarity with the tech comes much more anxiety and concern on the outcomes for them."

But perhaps there is good reason to be anxious.

For three months last year, Alejandro Graue had been doing voiceover work for a popular YouTube channel.

It seemed to be a promising line of work, a whole YouTube channel in English had to be re-voiced in Spanish.

Mr Graue went on holiday late last year confident that there would be work when he returned.

"I was expecting to have that money to live with - I have two daughters, so I need the money," he says.

But to his surprise, before he returned to work, the YouTube channel uploaded a new video in Spanish - one he had not worked on.

"When I clicked on it, what I heard was not my voice, but an AI generated voice - a very badly synced voiceover. It was terrible. And I was like, What is this? Is this like going to be my new partner in crime like the channel? Or is this going to replace me?" he says.

A phone call to the studio he worked for confirmed the worst. The client wanted to experiment with AI because it was cheaper and faster.

That experiment turned out to be a failure. Viewers complained about the quality of the voiceover and eventually the channel took down the videos that featured the AI-generated voice.

But Mr Graue did not find that very comforting. He thinks the technology will only improve and wonders where that will leave voiceover artists like him.

"If this starts to happen in every job that I have, what should I do? Should I buy a farm? I don't know. What other job could I look for that is not going to be replaced as well in the future? It's very complicated," he says.

If AI is not coming for your job then it is likely you might have to start working with one in some way.

After a few months of freelance work, former copywriter Dean Meadowcroft took a new direction.

He now works for an employee assistance provider, which gives wellbeing and mental health advice to staff. Working with AI is now part of his job.

"I think that is where the future is for AI, giving quick access to human-led content, as opposed to completely eliminating that human aspect," he says.

- Author: Ian Rose, BBC


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