With the advances in large language models (e.g. ChatGPT), referred to as AI, concerns are rising about a sweeping loss of jobs because of the new tools. Some claim jobs will be completely replaced, others claim that jobs will be cut because of a significant increase in efficiency. Labour parties and unions are organizing conferences about the future of jobs, universal basic income, etc.
These concerns are valid and these debates should be held. I’m addressing this post to the more extreme alarmists and not trying to diminish the rapid changes that these technological advances are bringing. We have to think about regulations, ethical AI and safeguards. And the recent advances are pushing us in that direction, which is good.
But in technology we often live the phrase “when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. The blockchain revolution didn’t happen, and so I think we are a bit more eager than warranted about the recent advances in AI. Let me address three aspects:
First – automation. The claim is, AI will swiftly automate a lot of jobs and many people with fall out of the labour market. The reality is that GPT/LLMs should be integrated in existing business processes. If regular automation hasn’t already killed those jobs, AI won’t do it so quickly. If an organization doesn’t use automation already for boilerplate tasks, it won’t overnight automate them with AI. Let me remind you that RPA (Robotic process automation) solutions have been advertised as AI. They really “kill” jobs in the enterprise. They’ve been around for nearly two decades and we haven’t heard a large alarmed choir about RPA. I’m aware there is a significant difference in LLMs and RPA, but the idea that a piece of technology will swiftly lead to staff reduction across industries is not something I agree with.
Second – efficiency. Especially in software development, where products like Copilot are already production-ready, it seems that with the increase of efficiency, there may be staff reduction. But if a piece of software used to be built for 6 months before AI, it will be built for, say, 3 months with AI. Note that code writing speed is not the only aspect of software development – other overhead and blockers will continue to exist – requirement clarifications, customer feedback, architecture decisions, operational and scalability issues, etc., so increase in efficiency is unlikely to be orders of magnitude. AT the same time, there is a shortage of software developers. With the advances of AI, there will be less of a shortage, meaning more software can be built within the same timeframe.
For outsourcing this means that the price per hour or per finished product may increase because of AI (speed is also a factor in pricing). A company will be able to service more customers for a given time. And there’s certainly a lot of demand for digital transformation. For product companies this increase in efficiency will mean faster time-to-market for the product and new features. Which will make product companies more competitive. In both cases, AI is unlikely to kills jobs in the near future.
Sure, ChatGPT can write a website. You can create a free website with site-builders even today. And this hasn’t killed web developers. It just makes the easiest websites cheaper. By the way, building software once and maintaining it are completely different things. Even if ChatGPT can build a website, maintenance is going to be tough through prompts.
At the same time, AI will put more intellectual pressure on junior developers, who are typically given the boilerplate work, which is going to be more automatable. But on the other hand AI will improve the training process of those junior developers. Companies may have to put more effort in training developers, and career paths may have to be adjusted, but it’s unlikely that the demand for software developers will drop.
Third, there is a claim that generative AI will kill jobs in the creative professions. Ever since I wrote an algorthmic music generator, I’ve been saying that it will not. Sure, composers of elevator music will be eventually gone. But poets, for example, won’t. ChatGPT is rather bad at poetry. It can’t actually write proper poetry. It seems to know just the AABB rhyme scheme, it ignores instructions on meter (“use dactylic tetrameter” doesn’t seem to mean anything to it). With image and video generation, the problem with unrealistic hands and fingers (and similar ones) doesn’t seem to be going away with larger models (even though the latest version of Midjourney is neatly going around it). It will certainly require post-editing. Will it make certain industries more efficient? Yes, which will allow them to produce more content for a given time. Will there be enough demand? I can’t say. The market will decide.
LLMs and AI will be change things. It will improve efficiency. It will disrupt some industries. And we have to debate this. But we still have time.