ChatGPT set a record in January for the fastest user growth when the generative artificial intelligence (AI) tool reached 100 million active users just two months after it was launched by OpenAI.
The popularity of ChatGPT has sent tech giants scrambling to commercialize their own AI efforts while generating dire warnings (again) from some about the impact of the latest “hot tech”’ wave on jobs.
Every major technological advance — including the invention of the printing press, mechanized looms and steam engines — has been accompanied by warnings of resulting job losses. It seems likely that when the wheel was invented, people expressed concerns about the implications for sled pullers and water carriers.
“Technology eliminates jobs, but it creates more jobs than it eliminates because it fuels economic growth and the jobs it creates are, I would say, in some ways more human jobs,” said Steven Hunt, SAP’s chief expert on technology and work, as well as a noted author on the topic.
But the challenge is that our economic models do not necessarily reward the types of jobs technology creates, Hunt said. “The issue is not one of job elimination; the issue is how we help with job transition.”
In his recently published book, “Talent Tectonics,” Hunt writes: “Technology does not replace the need for people. But it does change what people need to do.”
Hunt said that when technology is applied to an existing job, it tends to create two new types. First, technical jobs focused on developing, maintaining and using the technology: these jobs tend to be associated with operations, engineering, maintenance, analytics and programming. The second are service jobs that engage or support customers who receive the products and experiences associated with the technology. This creates new jobs associated with marketing, sales and customer support.
Unfortunately, as a society, we have downplayed the value of service jobs, even going so far as to call them “unskilled” since they may not require extensive technical training, Hunt said. Providing effective service requires considerable interpersonal, time management and problem-solving skills, but we do not financially reward these skills at the same level we reward skills used to manufacture or maintain equipment.
For example, the person who installs an in-home hospital bed to support the needs of an elderly grandparent gets paid more than the home healthcare aid whose services enable that grandparent to live comfortably at home. One treated as more valuable than the other, when both jobs are necessary to provide effective home healthcare.
Another topic that does not get enough attention is the role society plays in the people’s ability to adjust to technology disruption, Hunt noted. For example, how do we support truck drivers so their lives and the lives of their families are not totally upended by the inevitable creation of self-driving trucks? Our educational systems still largely reflect a 19th-century economic model that assumed people will learn a trade when they are young and then apply that trade for the rest of their lives.
We are not equipped to help large numbers of working adults with significant family care obligations or financial constraints learn entirely new trades, Hunt said. This is not just a problem for employees, it is also a problem for companies. Technology fuels economic growth but only if companies can find employees with the skills needed to build, deploy and support the technology.
Whether technology like ChatGPT is good or bad for our society will depend on our willingness to create a world where constant learning and frequent job transition is supported as a fundamental, expected and ongoing part of life.