AI Tools to Transform, Not Replace, White-Collar Jobs: Study

Ai Tools to Replace White Collar Jobs

AI Tools to Transform, Not Replace, White-Collar Jobs: Study

The discourse surrounding the potential threat of generative AI tools, like ChatGPT, to white-collar jobs has been heating up. However, scholars from Stanford University and France’s emlyon business school argue that the fear of AI replacing professional roles is built on “oversimplified and uninformed perceptions” of such jobs and their execution. They believe that the relational expertise – knowledge formed and utilized in collaboration with others in an organizational setting – is not easily “extractible or codifiable” by machines. Consequently, they suggest that professional roles are more likely to evolve rather than disappear due to AI.

Nonetheless, other experts view the situation with more complexity. Helen Poitevin, Distinguished Vice President Analyst at Gartner HR, a research and consultancy firm, points out that we often categorize what AI and humans are good at and decide to keep them, leading to the question ‘what’s safe from AI?’ But we overlook the fact that humans are deciding how to interact with technology. Even if it’s not flawless, they’ll opt for it due to cost-efficiency. She uses the analogy of photocopiers from years ago – people preferred using lower-quality machines on their floor for convenience rather than going to another floor where experts operated high-quality machines. Similarly, convenience and ease of access will drive more people towards AI.

Applied Futurist Tom Cheesewright asserts that while job roles will inevitably transform due to technology, there might also be fewer opportunities available. He emphasizes that this “random assortment of tasks” is not and will not remain static.

Jens Loehmar, Chief Technology Officer for Workday Continental and DACH, believes that in the current context, this situation can only be beneficial. However, he poses a question: could this situation shift the power balance from employees back to employers over time? And could we witness an AI-enabled ‘Great Redundancy’ for those unwilling to adapt to their employers’ demands in the ongoing debate about hybrid working and returning to the office?

The challenge is that while many employers are eager for staff to return at least part-time, an equal number of employees are actively or passively resisting such directives. This issue was highlighted last month when Google warned employees that it would enforce a minimum of three days a week office attendance. The tech giant also hinted that compliance would be tracked using data from office badges and attendance would be included in all performance reviews.

However, Poitevin thinks it unlikely that employers, including Google, would escalate such sanctions and use AI as a tool to force their staff back to the office. Instead, she believes it will be the ongoing competitiveness of the labor market that ironically brings about the most significant change in circumstances.

But the situation will have other ripple effects beyond just white-collar job losses. Poitevin explains: She likens the situation to that of pilots today. While they used to fly planes manually in the past, their role has now shifted to monitoring electronic systems. She emphasizes: You have to be highly skilled at using these tools and it requires high levels of performance. However, humans are creative in different ways, and some will be heavily impacted by this shift.

Carl Frey’s book ‘The Technology Trap: Capital, Labor and Power in the Age of Automation’ suggests there’ll be a negative impact for some people and societal fallout. Over time, certain sub-groups will raise productivity levels and it’s highly likely to be positive for society overall. But in the short term, certain groups will be very negatively impacted in their ability to thrive and work effectively in society.

Despite the ongoing debate about AI’s impact on white-collar jobs and the economy at large, there is still no concrete action in terms of regulation or attempts to mitigate the potentially severe societal impacts. Meanwhile, AI deployments continue to proliferate due to cost, convenience, and ironically, labor shortages.

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Guy Director
Higher Diploma in Mechanical Engineering. Ergomotion Director since 2005.

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