For years, people had believed that AI would automate blue-collar jobs first — self driving cars and trucks would take away jobs from drivers, and robots will take away jobs from delivery personnel. But recent developments have shown that things might go in an entirely different direction.
Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, which has taken the world by storm through its breakthrough product ChatGPT, has said that initial predictions about how AI would impact the job market had been completely backwards. “It was believed that AI would first come for the blue-collar jobs — working in factories, truck drivers and such,” he said. “Then it would come for the low-skill white-collar jobs. It would then come for the very high-skill white collar jobs — really high IQ jobs like a programmers and so on. And very last of all — and maybe never — it’s going to take the creative jobs,” Altman continued.
But that’s now how things have panned out. “It’s going in exactly the other direction,” Altman said. “There’s an interesting reminder here about how hard predictions are. It also shows that we are not always very aware — maybe even ourselves — of what skills are hard or easy. It’s hard to tell what uses most of our brain and what doesn’t, or how difficult (human) bodies are to control or make” he said.
What Altman says has already been gleaned by many in recent weeks. ChatGPT, since its release just over a month ago, has stunned the world with its proficiency in “white-collar” tasks — it can flawlessly write advanced computer programs, it can write perfect journalistic articles, and it can even come up with poetry and rap. Other AI products, such as Stable Diffusion and Midjourney, are able to create art and paintings in seconds. These jobs were thought to be relatively safe from the impending march of AI, but risk being rendered relatively meaningless overnight.
On the other hand, AI hasn’t made quite the same strides in taking over many blue-collar jobs. In spite of over a decade of research and billions of dollars poured in by top tech companies, there are no truly self-driving cars on the roads, and relatively few factory jobs have been taken over by robots. AI has found that disrupting things in the real world is significantly harder than disrupting things on a computer.
And this should concern all knowledge workers who sit in offices working away on their their computers — if an AI can perform their roles flawlessly and instantly, it could be hard for them to justify their positions, and they could end up being made redundant relatively quickly. Plenty of content writing is already being done on ChatGPT, and art from Stable Diffusion is already being used by mainstream papers and publications. It remains to be seen how these technologies shape up in the coming months, but white-collar workers everywhere would do well to make sure they continue to remain competitive in the job markets against their newly-created AI counterparts.