Artificial Intelligence

‘Transformed' gen AI could affect up to 8 million jobs

15th April 2024
Sheryl Miles

In March 2024, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) released a report: ‘Transformed by AI: How generative artificial intelligence could affect work in the UK – and how to manage it,’ in which it discusses the implications of generative AI on the UK's workforce and the potential strategies for managing its impact.

This report is an analysis of the impact that generative AI could have on the UK labour market and it emphasises that now is a crucial time for the UK where the technology could go either way – either disrupting jobs or fostering economical benefits – depending on government policy response.

Speaking on the report findings and embracing AI as a positive, Rosanne Kincaid-Smith, Group Chief Operating Officer at Northern Data Group, comments: “Like all major technological innovations, Generative AI will completely reshape the workforce. Fundamentally, it will drive productivities and efficiencies across every job and industry.

“Manufacturing, finance, and legal services will see significant changes, with assembly lines, data entry, and document reviews automated. These roles will become more technological and creatively focused.

“While there is no denying that commercial interest in AI has been driven by its ability to reduce headcounts, the disruption will be a positive one – these industries have been suffering from decades-long skills crises, short on talent due to the high barriers to entry.

“Like it or not, this change is coming. Rather than fight it, we need to re-evaluate career paths and invest in the next generation of employees. Robotic engineers, data governors, drug discovery analysts – these are the jobs tomorrow that rely on AI.”

The two waves of generative AI

The report delineates two principal phases of generative AI integration: the initial wave, already upon us, and a forthcoming phase where AI will be more deeply embedded into company processes.

An IPPR analysis of 22,000 tasks in the UK economy, covering every type of job, finds that 11% of tasks done by workers are already exposed to in the first wave. It identifies ‘routine cognitive’ tasks (such as database management) and ‘organisational and strategic’ tasks (such as scheduling or inventory management) as most exposed to generative AI, which can both read and create text, software code, and data.

However, this could increase to AI doing 59% of tasks in the second wave. This would also impact non-routine cognitive tasks (such as creating and maintaining databases) and would affect increasingly higher earning jobs.

However, Mike Loukides, Vice President of Emerging Tech at O’Reilly, believes there is nothing to fear: “While there's been no shortage of predictions about job loss, I doubt that will happen at any scale worth thinking about. AI Technology will enhance employees' skills, whether they're sales reps, copywriters, or programmers; it will make them better at their jobs, and hopefully minimise some of the tasks that they least like doing. They'll become more effective, with 10–30% increases in productivity and they'll be able to give their employers a way to get ahead of their competition, but also not enough to result in mass unemployment.  

“The risk isn't job loss, but an increase in the gap between junior and senior staff. If you look at programming, language models will certainly make it easier to learn, and will make it easier to write simple programs. But they'll require greater attention to debugging. They'll require the ability to read code that you didn't write. Neither of those skills are simple. We're all going to have to get much better at debugging, whether we're writing copy or sales reports. It's just too easy for language models to get things wrong, and everyone who uses them will have to take that into account. That's the new part of the job that nobody's talking about. 

“People shouldn’t stay away from AI Technology and similar tools like ChatGPT. They should definitely use them, but they need to learn how to use them effectively and accurately. Will it change the workplace? Absolutely, and probably for the better. But it's not magic. It's a tool that you must learn to use effectively.” 

Key report takeaways

  • Economic disruption and inequality: the report warns that generative AI could increase wage and wealth disparities and lead to job losses, calling for policy interventions to mitigate these effects through a job-centric industrial strategy.
  • Transformation in knowledge work: it is anticipated that generative AI will transform knowledge work substantially, possibly making AI-assisted systems standard in areas like customer service and HR.
  • Exposure to AI: the report identifies cognitive and back-office tasks as particularly susceptible to AI disruption, noting that women and entry-level workers might be disproportionately affected due to their prevalence in these roles.
  • Scenarios for AI integration: various scenarios are explored, from AI augmenting human labour to enhance productivity without reducing jobs, to scenarios where AI leads to substantial job losses without economic benefits.
  • Policy recommendations: the report advises comprehensive policy measures, including fiscal policies and the creation of new, less AI-vulnerable roles, along with establishing a centralised body to oversee these efforts.
  • Urgency for policy response: given the swift adoption of AI technologies and their potential to significantly disrupt the labour market, immediate and strategic policy responses are imperative.

However, the authors emphasise that the outcomes will depend significantly on the design, implementation, and regulation of AI technologies, highlighting the necessity for proactive, well-considered policies to ensure the equitable distribution of AI's benefits.

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