Since the industrial revolution, there has been a pervasive fear among individuals that technology would render their jobs obsolete. Although certain jobs and responsibilities have indeed been substituted by machines, new opportunities have also arisen. The triumph of ChatGPT and other generative artificial intelligence (AI) has now sparked curiosity among many regarding the future of work and the security of their current employment.
According to a recent survey, over 50% of individuals between the ages of 18 and 24 express concerns about AI and its impact on their careers. The apprehension regarding the potential disappearance or replacement of jobs due to automation is reasonable. Recent studies indicate that approximately 25% of tasks currently performed by humans in the United States and Europe could be automated in the near future.
The rising adoption of AI in white-collar environments signifies that the forthcoming workplace transformations will be distinct from previous instances. This is because the prevailing notion is that middle-class jobs are now at risk of being affected.
The future of work has become a widely discussed subject, leading to the publication of numerous books each year exploring this topic. These books cater to the human desire to comprehend how the future might unfold.
Through an analysis of 10 books published between 2017 and 2020, which delved into the future of work and technology, two predominant perspectives on AI in the workplace emerged. The first perspective, which I refer to as “automation anxiety,” reflects concerns about the future of work and the security of existing job roles. The second perspective, known as “augmentation aspiration,” revolves around the optimistic view that human-machine collaboration will enhance productivity.
Automation and Augmentation in the Future of Work
In these books, a prevalent and strong concern revolves around technology’s capability to automate certain tasks, leading to the potential loss of jobs for many individuals. Of particular concern is the impact on knowledge-based professions, such as accounting or law, which have traditionally been associated with well-educated professionals. These once-secure job roles are now perceived to be at risk of being replaced by machines.
The notion that a quality education guarantees a stable middle-class job is challenged by automation. Economist Richard Baldwin highlights this issue in his 2019 book, The Globotics Upheaval, pointing out that individuals who invested significant time and money in obtaining a law degree, with the belief that it would ensure permanent employability, now face apprehension as AI is capable of performing tasks typically assigned to junior lawyers at a lower cost.
However, there exists an alternative and more optimistic perspective to consider. Certain books emphasize the potential for humans and AI to collaborate, thereby enhancing each other’s abilities. This collaborative approach might involve working alongside robots in manufacturing settings or utilizing an AI chatbot while practicing law. Instead of facing replacement, professionals like lawyers could experience augmentation through technology.
In reality, automation and augmentation go hand in hand, co-existing in the modern work landscape. Both aspects will hold significance for your future career, emphasizing the need to adapt and embrace technological advancements.
Learning, Thinking, and Collaborating with AI
As you contemplate your own career path, it is essential to recognize that some degree of task automation is likely to be a factor you’ll need to confront in the future.
Considering this, continuous learning stands out as one of the most crucial ways to safeguard your career against future uncertainties. However, you may wonder if investing in further education is worth it when the return on investment remains uncertain.
While it is true that certain specific skills may risk becoming outdated as technology advances, the true value of education lies not merely in acquiring fixed abilities but in mastering the art of learning itself. Learning how to learn allows you to update and adapt your skill set throughout your entire career, making it a highly valuable asset in the workplace, as substantiated by research.
This process of learning can occur within formal educational settings, such as returning to university or enrolling in executive education courses. However, it can also take place while on the job. In any career discussion, including those with your manager, it might be beneficial to explore opportunities for additional training and upskilling.
Emphasizing critical thinking and analytical skills will play a central role in how humans and machines can effectively complement each other. When collaborating with AI, the ability to question the generated output becomes crucial. Humans will continue to hold a pivotal position in this context. For instance, while a chatbot may automate certain aspects of legal work, a human will remain indispensable in interpreting and making sense of the overall results.
Lastly, it is important to bear in mind that historical concerns about job disappearance and task replacement by machines have not always materialized as expected. Take, for example, the introduction of automated teller machines (ATMs).