- Most technology, including AI, will have a positive net effect on job creation.
- AI will create a new set of middle-class jobs if workers embrace the technology and are trained to take on roles that are newly configured to use AI capabilities.
- A recent report by Goldman Sachs suggests that generative AI could raise global GDP by 7 percent, a truly significant effect for any single technology.
There’s no question that AI will significantly transform the workforce shortly. It’s already happening in people’s everyday work lives, including my own.
As an example, my team recently lost a couple of people who routinely wrote SQL queries, and I discovered AirOps, an AI tool that can write those queries using plain text descriptions. This freed up my time from learning SQL from scratch, and it freed up analysts’ time from pulling data for me. Now I can focus on the output and answer the larger questions at hand.
While at first that may sound like evidence that AI will overwhelmingly replace jobs, the research actually shows that most technologies, including AI, will have a positive net effect on job creation. But it will be critical for workers, especially mid-level workers whose current jobs are most easily automated, to embrace the possibilities of new tech and an impending redefinition of how their work gets done.
The AI revolution and job evolution
The past has already shown us how using technology to our advantage can make workers with lower levels of education more valuable in the workforce. When technologies like electricity, plumbing, conveyor belts, manufacturing, and other machines were first introduced, the workers who embraced the new technologies gained job security and better pay because of their newly acquired skills. This tech used niche knowledge or complicated machines that didn’t require workers with college degrees but those with a specific and valuable skill set.
However, with the internet and digitization, the opposite occurred — mid-level workers lost the most. Their jobs were automated because computers can follow the explicit, step-by-step instructions that defined a lot of these workers’ responsibilities (e.g. Excel macros for previously manual data tasks).
The AI revolution will be different. Generative AI doesn’t follow step-by-step instructions. Instead, it crunches data, learns patterns based on data, and replicates them. For example, AI can scan thousands of images and identify the likelihood or risk of developing breast cancer before anyone actually develops breast cancer. This is powerful new information that isn’t replacing a human’s existing job but offers many new possibilities for the practice of health care.
AI will create a new set of middle-class jobs if workers embrace the technology and are trained to take on roles that are newly configured to use AI capabilities. We see an ideal future of AI in work complementing human roles by automating rote tasks, allowing people to be more creative and use critical thinking. The jobs that are most at risk need to be redefined to turn into complementary situations.
The AI-enabled future of executive assistants
As an example, let’s look at the role of executive assistant, a low- to mid-level role that could evolve with AI to benefit the worker. We’ve all known, or been, an executive assistant that is the backbone of an organization or department — but often, too much of their time is taken up with critical but repetitive tasks.
An EA who primarily manages a calendar might be replaced by an AI assistant. But if that personal assistant can upskill and use AI to oversee a team’s schedule instead of one person’s, summarize articles and documents, take meeting notes, create synopses of data, and do other work that previously required more hours than EAs have available in the day, they’re more productive as an individual and more valuable to the organization. It may also help them develop industry knowledge or capabilities that could prepare them to move into other opportunities.
Eightfold’s extensive workforce data illustrates why it’s so important that functions like executive support evolve. Using our data, we analyzed the distribution of the top 100 skills of an EA and found that 48 percent of the most common skills are declining, 45 percent are stable and only 7 percent are rising. Of those fastest-declining skills, which range from data entry, customer service, time management, spreadsheets, and sorting/ filing, almost all will be able to be done with AI tools by people who know how to use them.
Furthermore, when support staff is more valuable and efficient, senior workers can be more productive in the cognitive work of strategizing, innovating, creating, decision-making, and problem-solving. This is the work that generates technological progress and future productivity across the economy.
AI as an equalizer
Generative AI could also have an equalizing effect on the labor market, offering a solution to the talent gap between open jobs and available workers.
In a recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), less-experienced, lower-skilled customer service reps trained to use a generative AI-based conversational assistant saw larger gains in their job performance than more experienced or higher-skilled workers. The experienced call center operators became 14 percent more productive when they used the technology, while the least experienced workers saw gains of over 30 percent.
The study’s data suggested that the AI model disseminates the knowledge of more able workers and helps newer workers quickly move up the experience curve. The study also noted that AI assistance improved customer sentiment, improved employee retention, and reduced requests for managerial intervention. Those three factors could dramatically increase productivity, allowing managers to focus on the higher-skilled tasks that further increase productivity.
Similarly, recent research from MIT showed that ChatGPT not only substantially raised average productivity in midlevel professional writing tasks, but it also benefited lower-ability workers more, decreasing inequality among workers while increasing productivity overall.
AI’s power to grow the global economy
A recent report by Goldman Sachs suggests that generative AI could raise global GDP by 7 percent, a truly significant effect for any single technology. If we can replicate these promising trends across industries, it would increase the productivity of the overall economy and GDP, wages would stabilize, and the middle class could again thrive across education levels.
Of course, a bigger pie does not automatically mean that everyone benefits evenly — or at all. The productivity effects of generative AI are likely to go hand in hand with disruption and displacement in the job market. This is why it’s so critical for both individual workers and employers to focus not on the replacement of humans with machines, but on the opportunities that generative AI presents for new job structures, new skills, and a highly productive workforce that is supported to push the limits of human ingenuity.
Sania Khan is the chief economist at Eightfold AI, the AI-powered platform for all talent, and the author of the upcoming book Think Like an Economist. She previously worked for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This article originally appeared on Inc. in May.