Artificial intelligence (‘AI’): Are our jobs at risk, or will the workplace change for the better?

Artificial intelligence (‘AI’): Are our jobs at risk, or will the workplace change for the better?

It’s been difficult to ignore the recent developments in AI, particularly with the introduction of ChatGPT and the unrestricted access which is now widely available. However, this has triggered widespread focus on the impact that AI may have on the modern workplace, with some studies suggesting that up to two thirds of jobs are exposed to AI to some extent. Indeed, Ian Hogarth, head of the Government’s new AI taskforce, commented that it was “inevitable” that more jobs would become increasingly automated. Is this negative, suggesting our jobs will fundamentally change in the future, or should it be seen as a positive, given there are opportunities to be exploited?

AI has already been in the workplace for some time, and certain sectors have become quite familiar with the efficiencies it affords and the automation of certain processes and procedures. We have become used to the concept of technology automating more manual jobs, but with the focus now on ‘generative AI’, it can be – and is – having an impact on the more creative roles, which we’d previously thought were only able to be carried out by humans.

Some commentators are seeing this as a huge threat to the workplace as we know it, anticipating redundancies in many different areas and fundamentally changing the jobs that will be carried out by humans in future. Indeed, BT has suggested that it could cut up to 10,000 jobs by 2030 as a result of AI. However, the situation may be more nuanced; one company which is openly embracing the benefits of generative AI is financial services firm, EY. So far, the experience they have shared is that generative AI is beneficially complementing the work carried out by their workforce. EY reports that the use of AI is freeing up time and removing the more administrative tasks that its professional employees are distracted by, so that productivity is generally increased. Employees are then able to spend more time thinking and answering queries from clients, so that a better, more efficient service can be provided and there is more time to develop genuine human connection.

Rather than fear losing roles entirely, it’s therefore important for employers to approach this as an opportunity, establishing what parts of a role can be automated in order to increase productivity and efficiency. It will be really important that leaders communicate this carefully to their workforce, to experiment with AI and to collaborate with staff to develop roles in a positive way, rather than imposing change in a way which could increase fear over the impact of AI. It’s also worth bearing in mind that there’s the potential for AI to generate human jobs, which did not exist beforehand (in the same way that new jobs were created with the rise of the internet). A recent report by Goldman Sachs pointed out that 60% of the jobs carried out today did not exist in 1940, such that technological developments could simply be viewed as the impetus for the evolution of the job market, instead of viewed as a threat.

Of course, there is no denying there are risks associated with AI and much has been written about the potential for adverse consequences of allowing AI too much control over decisions in the workplace. There is obvious potential for discriminatory decisions to be made, without careful human assessment in certain scenarios, and there are also legitimate concerns about the potential for work to intensify in a way which may risk mental or physical health, if every administrative aspect of a role is removed.

Another key issue is how AI is regulated, and whilst the European Parliament has recently approved legislation to control development of the technology, the UK has yet to implement any rules governing AI. The government did publish a White Paper at the end of March 2023 with the clear aim of positioning the UK as an ‘AI superpower’ but refused to introduce specific legislation nor a single governing body to regulate AI, on the basis that they believe the UK’s existing legal framework protects against any adverse impact of AI. The government instead proposes to support existing regulators – such as the Financial Conduct Authority and the Competition & Markets Authority – to regulate AI on a more sector-focused basis. However, there is concern that this is not specific or targeted enough.

It is quite clear that AI is going to permanently shift the way we live and work and so it will be vital that employers engage with it positively. AI presents a huge opportunity and a genuine chance for organisations to exploit a competitive advantage by embracing the benefits at an early stage, whilst taking careful steps to mitigate specific risks.