GenAI set to replace these jobs, disrupt others — and worsen economic inequity

The latest report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and generative AI (genAI) reads like a “best of times, worst of times” tale.

The world is on “the brink of a technological revolution that could jump start productivity, boost global growth and raise incomes around the world,” the Washington-based IMF said in a recent blog post. Yet AI and genAI could also “replace jobs and deepen inequality.”

The IMF found the results of a new analysis about AI and jobs to be “striking,” and said nearly 40% of global employment will be exposed to the effects of genAI. That number could be even higher — 60% — in advanced economies such as the US and Europe.

As a result, income inequality might increase even as wealth inequality grows, the agency said. In other words, wages might fall while companies are doing even better because of AI-related productivity gains.

While those trends might appear ominous, the study also found that about half the jobs affected by AI and genAI could benefit from enhanced productivity. For the other 50%, however, genAI tools could be used to execute tasks now done by humans, which could lower labor demand, lead to lower wages and reduce hiring.

And in the most extreme cases, some jobs might disappear.

imf graphic 1 International Labour Organization/IMF

“Many studies have predicted the likelihood that jobs will be replaced by AI,” the study said. “Yet we know that in many cases, AI is likely to complement human work. The IMF analysis captures both these forces. If productivity gains are sufficiently large, income levels could surge for most workers. In this evolving landscape, advanced economies and more developed emerging markets need to focus on upgrading regulatory frameworks and supporting labor reallocation, while safeguarding those adversely affected.”

High-end jobs could be affected

Historically, automation and IT have tended to affect routine tasks, the agency said, “but one of the things that sets AI apart is its ability to impact high-skilled jobs.

“As a result, advanced economies face greater risks from AI — but also more opportunities to leverage its benefits — compared with emerging market and developing economies,” the IMF said.

The likelihood of disruption in labor markets caused by the fast advance of genAI tools is something the World Economic Forum (WEF) highlighted last fall. The WEF concluded that while genAI could eliminate 85 million jobs globally by 2025, it would also generate 97 million new jobs in fields ranging from big data and machine learning to information security and digital marketing.

AI roles now make up 27% of all tech jobs advertised in the UK, according to a new study by global content and tech company Thomson Reuters. An analysis of 6,073 live tech roles advertised online this month found that 1,652 fundamentally required AI skills, the company said.

The jobs requiring AI skills were defined as those with AI in their title (i.e. AI trainer, AI content writer), or roles where AI skills are listed as a requirement or among the primary responsibilities. In addition, a number of novel specialist AI roles have sprung up in the legal vertical fields, including “Head of Large Language Models” and “Global Knowledge Systems Architect.”

“Demand for AI skills is only expected to grow in 2024 as businesses race to adapt their workforce and processes to take advantage of the technology’s potential,” Thomson Reuters said.

world economic forum ai impact on jobs World Economic Forum

The WEF (pointing to independent studies by Jobs of Tomorrow and Deloitte) agreed that genAI is likely to create new jobs, including AI developers, engineers, and scientists working on the large language models (LLMs) on which genAI tools such as ChatGPT depend.

“Specific roles in this area don’t just belong to programmers designing more efficient algorithms,” the WEF said. “Electrical engineers could see a rising number of opportunities thanks to demand for customized microchips to train and run LLMs.”

It pointed to Meta as among the companies investigating custom chips for AI, which could help chip designers make further advances.

Again citing Deloitte, the WEF said chipmakers have created AI design tools that are already being used to make chips potentially worth billions of dollars a year. “Though they won’t replace human designers, their complementary strengths in speed and cost-effectiveness give chipmakers much stronger design capabilities,” Deloitte said.

A potential AI digitial divide?

Kevin Macnish, head of ethics and sustainability at Sopra Steria, a European-based business consulting and digital services provider, said the IMF study reiterates how ethics must be at the heart of AI adoption.

“While the benefits of AI in the workplace are known, the technology can also have a very real impact on the people and organizations deploying it, including bias, discrimination and risks to data privacy,” Macnish said. “With adoption accelerating, we have a duty of care to ensure AI is used in a transparent and responsible way, starting with considering an ‘ethics by design’ approach during its development and implementation.”

Key to bolstering productivity without simply replacing workers will be educating the public on how to use AI and genAI tools effectively; that would make the technology more accessible and easier to understand, “and prevent these digital divides from occurring before it’s too late.”

In fact, according to the IMF, workers who harness the capabilities of AI are likely to see an increase in their productivity and wages, while those who don’t will likely fall behind. The agency pointed to research by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) showing that genAI can help less experienced workers enhance their productivity faster.

“Younger workers may find it easier to exploit opportunities, while older workers could struggle to adapt,” the IMF said.

The AI glass-half-full view

IT staffing firm Experis recently released survey results showing the majority of employers around the world remain optimistic that emerging technologies such as genAI and machine learning will actually create more jobs than they eliminate. 

“We are seeing companies embrace these new technologies, with many seeking to hire or upskill existing talent to take advantage of potential productivity gains,” said Experis Senior Vice President Ger Doyle. “Smart employers know that embracing digitization and nurturing human talent will enhance their readiness to succeed in this era of rapid technological advancement.”

As much as 29% of computer-related job tasks could be automated by AI, along with  28% of work by healthcare practitioners and technical tasks in that field, Goldman Sachs projected. Other areas with the highest exposure to automation are administrative positions (46%) and tasks in legal (44%) professions. Not surprisingly, jobs least likely to be affected tend to be in physically intensive areas such as construction (6%) and maintenance (4%).

Thomson Reuters Chief People Officer Mary Alice Vuicic said the demand for AI skills across professions is accelerating at “a remarkable pace.

“AI-focused jobs requirements have gone from being quite limited to being over a quarter of all new IT roles in a very short time,” Vuicic said in a statement. “As AI capabilities grow, we will see an unprecedented wave of upskilling and reskilling driving AQ (Adaptability Quotient) to be as or more important than IQ and EQ.”

New roles will emerge such as AI Integrators — transforming the design of work to integrate technology and elevate human work — and reskillers who’ll train and develop people for the work humans are uniquely positioned to do.

“The innovative AI roles being created today are set to play a vital role in the growth, innovation and efficiency of tomorrow’s business,” Vuicic said.

Thomson Reuters found that business leaders are warming up to the value of genAI tools, with 91% of C-suite board directors saying their companies now use the tools or plan to do so within the next 18 months.

The research also found that nearly 90% of respondents expect basic AI training to become mandatory for all professionals by 2030.

Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.


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