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The Effect AI Will Have on the Workplace Is Becoming More Clear

Last month, Open AI CEO Sam Altman testified before a Congressional committee about AI risks. During his remarks, he urged lawmakers to regulate the rapidly growing AI industry, which has exploded over the past few years. As consumer apps and platforms feature generative AI, many of them free, have been released to the masses, questions have been raised about the implications of this kind of technology on society and the workforce. Users have pointed out issues with accuracy on sites like ChatGPT, which was found to have made up nonexistent facts and figures following user prompts. A lawyer in New York City made headlines recently after he was caught using the program to write a legal filing, which was filled with inaccuracies and cases that turned out to be completely made up. The case itself was an unprecedented situation; artificial intelligence isn’t something addressed specifically in the New York Bar Association’s code of conduct.

The floodgates have been opened and more and more AI platforms, apps, and software will come onto the market for public consumption. According to research from McKinsey, venture capital investment in AI has grown 13-fold over the last decade. A nascent industry like this will certainly continue to be a target for regulation—and for good reason. The effect it will have on a myriad of industries in the U.S. is something everyone is watching, especially as it relates to the office, which is already one of the biggest topics on the minds of many Americans. We’re just now getting a sense of how AI could change the way work gets done, with new research coming out and predictions being made by economists about whether it will or won’t take away jobs. What that means for workplaces and how they may change in terms of look and feel, that’s just starting to come into focus.

Pop culture introduced a lot of Americans to artificial intelligence in the form of robots, which have become a mainstay of comic books, film, and science fiction books. But the idea of using AI as a tool in office settings is relatively new. Research continues to come out about just how far AI’s reach extends in different office-using industries. While it tends to be thought of as a tool for computing, AI can be used in a wide range of applications. Around two-thirds of current jobs have exposure to some degree of AI automation, and generative AI—like ChatGPT, DALL-E, and similar tools—could be used in some way in 300 million full-time jobs worldwide, according to a study from Goldman Sachs. 

Generative AI can do a lot. Type in any prompt and just a few seconds later, the program will type out a thorough answer or produce an original image. It’s been used to write content for websites, ad campaigns, and email newsletters. It can even be used to create audio, code, and 3D renderings. AI has already been used by large banks as a way to improve back-end operations, enhance cybersecurity and is behind the ubiquitous chatbots used by companies in a customer service capacity. In the medical field, radiologists are using generative AI as a tool to help detect heart disease, neurological disorders, and even cancer, by analyzing x-rays and other medical images. 

While a lot of researchers admit that jobs will be impacted by AI in some way or another, not all believe it will cost people their jobs altogether. On the contrary, AI may even help workers do their job better rather than take their job away. “Every job will be impacted by AI,” said Pieter den Hamer, vice president of research at market research firm Gartner. “Most of that will be more augmentation rather than replacing workers.” For many workers, AI will be a tool for productivity and a way to complete tasks more efficiently. For example, generative AI could help engineers and programmers build software faster. While some jobs may be taken over by AI, new positions will emerge as a result of the advanced technology. The jobs that are lost to AI are already being tracked at a national level. Last month, 3,900 jobs were cut due to AI, according to a jobs report from Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm. Among the 17 reasons why employers cut jobs (for example, market/economic conditions and cost-cutting) the firm added artificial intelligence to the list for the first time.

Across the world, AI could lead to the creation of 97 million new jobs by 2025, according to the World Economic Forum. Already, there has been more demand for machine learning engineers, robotic engineers, and data scientists over the past five years. Positions like AI trainers are starting to emerge, and in the healthcare industry in particular, positions for workers using AI could soar. And like any system, AI will need people to maintain it. Demand for AI maintenance workers in the form of AI developers and engineers is expected to jump significantly over the next decade. 

Less jobs means less office, especially in stalwart industries like law and financial services. But the automation of basic tasks that AI is expected to impact the most could in turn place higher importance on the creative, collaborative work that happens in the office. And it’s that collaborative work that has been the biggest reason behind employers’ return-to-office mandates, which have been ramping up this year. If AI does lead some companies to reduce their office footprint, it doesn’t mean they will forego the office altogether. More than 70 percent of corporate leaders around the world that were surveyed in JLL’s Future of Work survey last year said the office will remain a central part of their work strategy in our hybrid work era. 

Ever since easy-to-use AI tools became available to anyone with an internet connection, we’ve worried about what it will mean for the workforce, the problems inaccuracies in the tech could cause, and what an AI-heavy future will look like. Thankfully, what researchers have found so far is that AI will help people do their jobs better and faster now, and will mostly lead to additional jobs instead of replacing them. The tech could help companies scale up, improve their employee retention rate, and perform better overall. Whether the widespread use of AI in the workplace will affect how companies lease space and how space is designed isn’t yet clear, but as of yet, it doesn’t seem like it will have a major impact—at least not anytime soon. But there are still very real concerns about job loss due to AI, even though the losses could be offset by new jobs that will be created. For decades, advances in automation have been a leading driver of income inequality in the U.S. Mitigating the impact AI could have on the U.S. workforce is something that leaders in the industry and lawmakers should be focusing on next. “There will be an impact on jobs,” OpenAI’s Altman told senators during the recent hearing. “And I think it will require partnership between the industry and government, but mostly action by government.”

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