“Generative AI is likely to have the biggest impact on knowledge work, particularly activities involving decision making and collaboration, which previously had the lowest potential for automation.”, McKinsey Study.
Since the emergence of generative artificial intelligence (AI) in November of last year, a shadow of uncertainty has loomed over the future of white-collar jobs. OpenAI, the brains behind ChatGPT, predicts that occupations with higher wages are at the forefront of the AI-induced job transformation. The risk is especially pronounced for those earning more than $120,000, being three times more vulnerable than their counterparts making less than $60,000. McKinsey underlines the potential of these AI models to automate the application of expertise, a concern that is no longer a distant projection but a reality for some professionals.
Impact on Freelancers
U.S. researchers revealed the immediate and tangible impact of generative AI on white-collar freelancers. Copywriters and graphic designers on major online platforms experienced a notable decrease in job opportunities and a sharper decline in earnings shortly after the launch of ChatGPT. What’s more alarming is the finding that even the most skilled freelancers, who once enjoyed high earnings and completed numerous tasks, were not immune to the adverse effects. Generative AI not only took their jobs but also devalued the work they continued to perform.
Knowledge Workers Under the AI Umbrella
Looking beyond freelancing, a recent study by Harvard Business School delved into the influence of GPT-4, OpenAI’s latest and most advanced offering, on employees at Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Those assigned to use GPT-4 during consulting tasks exhibited a 25% increase in productivity, completing 12% more tasks with a 40% higher quality assessment compared to their non-AI-assisted colleagues. Notably, the largest performance gains were observed among less highly skilled workers. However, a nuanced task involving qualitative material analysis revealed a limitation: the AI struggled with subtleties.
Insights and Recommendations
The studies offer three key insights. Firstly, the importance of regulation is emphasized, particularly in unregulated labor markets such as online freelancing. Without safeguards, even knowledge workers face challenges. Secondly, the risk of complete automation is lower in roles that demand a multifaceted skill set. The gig-worker model, where tasks are singular and repeatable, is more exposed to automation. Lastly, to maximize the benefits of AI while avoiding pitfalls, the research suggests treating AI as an extension of human capabilities. The concept of “cyborgs” and “centaurs” highlights the need for continuous human-AI collaboration and careful oversight.
In the dynamic realm of white-collar work, generative AI emerges as both a threat and a potential ally. The delicate balance requires vigilance, adaptability, and a nuanced understanding of how AI can complement human skills. As we navigate this transformative era, it becomes clear that treating generative AI as a collaborative partner rather than a standalone assistant is crucial for ensuring a prosperous and symbiotic relationship between humans and technology.