When you hear about what ChatGPT can do, it’s hard not to feel like we’re on the precipice of the next technological revolution. An artificial intelligence (AI) that can pass the bar exam, write computer code and act as a therapist sounds like a sci-fi novel come to life.
For all of AI’s exciting potential, however, it could also exacerbate inequality and displace millions of workers. With so much on the line, we need to think twice about hopping on the AI bandwagon.
The World Economic Forum estimates 85 million people will lose their jobs to AI by 2025. This doesn’t just mean grocery store clerks or data entry positions, either. AI could replace some of the professions we train for at NC State, such as legal assistants, accountants and software engineers.
The World Economic Forum also predicts AI will create an additional 97 million jobs if businesses and the government collaborate to make sure everyone gets a piece of the pie. That is a massive caveat and, frankly, an incredibly naive approach to an extremely complex issue.
As I wrote in my last opinion column, economic inequality has already been exacerbated by the government’s inaction. If the government isn’t doing something to address systemic poverty now, how likely is it that it will create a uniting coalition with big tech, business and education under an AI-powered utopia?
The World Economic Forum also fails to acknowledge that workers displaced by AI will not necessarily have matching skills to new jobs created. AI will create mostly tech-related jobs but take away positions from unrelated fields. That means the workers who are displaced won’t have another job to turn to if AI wipes out their field of expertise.
The World Economic Forum claims bigger investments in education can help facilitate a career switch, but even if schools could handle such an influx of students, going back to school may not be a viable option for workers.
We’ve already seen this effect with the introduction of the computer. MIT economists found prioritization of digital skills in the workforce is actively polarizing job growth, which contributes to economic inequality. Jobs are increasing in sectors requiring little to no digital experience and in sectors requiring a high degree of technological literacy. That means jobs sitting in the middle of the spectrum — like education and office administration — are stagnating.
Thus, if you don’t have much technological knowledge, there aren’t many middle-class paying jobs available. As businesses rely more on computers, service occupations with lower requirements and pay are the only option for workers that don’t have digital skills.
The World Economic Forum expects businesses and the government to join forces to prevent future job loss, but digitalization is already pushing workers out of jobs and they’re doing nothing. If this is what happens when the computer is integrated into business, I can only imagine what AI will do.
I’m not saying AI is inherently bad. It could be hugely useful for businesses looking to cut costs and increase productivity. But, as with earlier technological revolutions, there will be unintended consequences of implementing AI in the workforce. We simply don’t know what’s going to happen — and let’s face it: we are grossly underprepared. Until legislation, education and business catch up with technology, we need to err on the side of caution.
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