Any company naturally aims to fill each role with the right person. But if AI and automation eventually replace more than a quarter of all current jobs, as one survey suggests, might the right “person” be a bot? And if that’s the case, how will humans maintain accountability?
The answer: By looking at the big picture and treating AI as a vital tool, not as a seat, as we shift into the age of understanding information rather than merely being overwhelmed by information.
In the information age, we were inundated to the point of overload. The signal-to-noise ratio is off the charts. This is why I believe we’re transitioning into the age of understanding.
AI models such as ChatGPT have the potential to help us understand information better, which benefits individuals, teams, departments, companies and society as a whole. They also give us access to more genuinely useful information, the type that can enable us to make better long-term decisions.
Yet, many people are afraid of the shift. Workers in a range of industries say they think AI could take over their jobs in the next decade.
This fear creates a vicious cycle. As people fret over losing their jobs, politicians respond by moving to regulate AI, and they justify new rules by leaning into people’s fears. But regulation will achieve little, as it has with other technological breakthroughs, and will inevitably serve to stifle innovation.
To put it bluntly, AI cannot – and should not – be stopped. And how could it be? After all, it’s “only” a piece of software that just happens to do extraordinary things. Banning lines of code is futile in the long run. Progress, like life, will always “find a way,” so why waste precious resources fighting a technology that is here to help us advance?
For thousands of years, there’s been some displacement of jobs with disruptive technology. The classic example is the buggy-whip manufacturers that went out of business with the advent of the automobile, which, in turn, replaced horses and the horse-drawn carriage. But this example, like others, shows that in the long run, humans adapt and societies evolve for the better.
The leading societies always find ways to take advantage of technological advancements. They do so by developing new skills, leveraging them to solve harder problems, identifying opportunities and creating industries.
Let’s acknowledge that we’re far from the point where there’s no more work to be done by humans. AI is a great many things. It can process boundless amounts of data and deliver information pertinent to a task, but it lacks situational awareness, nuance, context and the motivating drivers that inspire the human vision to create and build. Simply put, AI is not sentient, but human nature tends to want us to attribute human characteristics – and abilities – to many non-human things.
Viewing AI as a tool – and accepting, not fearing, the technology – is bound to make life better for the vast majority of people and the planet as a whole. AI is already embedding itself in society, and it will do so over many years, giving proactive workers, companies and countries ample time to prepare.
It’s important to remember that people are, by nature, change-averse. But change rarely happens as fast as we think it will. The personal computer was invented in the 1960s, but it didn’t become part of the workforce until several decades later. Pay phones went away with the advent of cell phones, but, again, it was a slow process.
In the end, both of those technologies benefited people on an individual, group and a societal level — as cars and computers did. AI will do the same. According to a Pew Survey, Americans report that over the past 50 years, technology has improved their lives “more than any other advancement,” and they believe the next 50 years will continue apace.
ChatGPT has been adopted much faster than most technologies were in the past, and that scares lots of people. The technology’s human-like communication ability doesn’t help in that regard, even though it makes useful information far more accessible to the average person. Still, machine learning has been in development for more than half a century, and it’s already at the heart of algorithms that power search engines and social media, among other technologies.
The fact remains that AI has blossomed, and it’s here now. It’s being incorporated into the workplace not just to bump up efficiency and productivity, but also to improve how organizations are run, how people communicate and how people are developed. As people see its power versus fear of the unknown, we will witness further development and adoption.
It’s important to remember that companies are employing AI to help leaders lead better and workers do their jobs better. Lawyers, for example, will still be sought after, but the scope of their job will expand beyond the tasks that artificial intelligence can handle. There were similar fears in the law profession when Lexis-Nexis came out, speeding up the task of finding legal information.
That’s where accountability comes in. As AI takes over some forms of work, humans will figure out other ways to matter in the workplace. Generating ideas, attacking problems, improving our ability to deliver value, elevating our ability to lead, coach and develop talent – those are areas where humans are superior.
As we transition from the age of information to the age of understanding, we will need leaders to usher us through this period. Company executives and elected officials, who are held in high regard in society, need to be transparent about AI to build trust in the transformative technology. And that means focusing on facts, not fear.
Mark Abbott is the founder of Ninety.io.