Home/ Opinion / Views/  Generative AI will require us to recalibrate how we do our work

I was struck by a remarkable statement by software engineer Kent Beck, author of Extreme Programming. “I have been reluctant to try ChatGPT," he tweeted, “today I got over that reluctance. Now I understand why I was reluctant. The value of 90% of my skills just dropped to $0. The leverage of the remaining 10% went up 1000x. I need to recalibrate." I got reminded of this as I was flipping through a new report (bit.ly/3BGbIby) on AI and the future of work by Microsoft WorkLab. It had some interesting revelations: More than half the typical workday of a corporate employee was devoted to communication like emails, meetings, chats, etc. The remaining 43% was for actual creative tasks, and even a lot of that was also about creating spreadsheets, documents in various formats or slides to present at meetings. No wonder that more than two-thirds of workers complained they did not have uninterrupted focused time during their workday. I tend to empathize with this. I was a corporate citizen for more than two decades and have been a ‘solopreneur’ for the last few years. While there are infinite struggles being an entrepreneur, my productivity has ratcheted up several times unencumbered by countless meetings discussing the same old issues, with similar information being presented to different people in different formats in a work routine that leaves virtually no time for any deep thinking.

As the Generative AI tidal wave sweeps across industries and offices, I believe what it will impact the most is this aspect of corporate life. We often do not consider work as an industry in itself, though it is a several trillion dollar one, and confuse work with jobs. We are rightly worried about how AI will impact jobs, but tend to neglect how it will impact work. Investigating this, I stumbled on another post, this time on LinkedIn, which had a wonderful way to deconstruct work into three kinds. The first is where you must act, which is about your role, be it as an accountant, a programmer, marketer or a journalist. The second is where you show, by means of a format, be it a slide, chart, spreadsheet, code or a summary. And the third is when you need to create, or perform a creative task, like an essay, a recipe, code or a sales pitch.

The show part is probably the most tiresome and repetitive for a worker. Good visualization and presentation are important, but time consuming and often tedious. This is where Generative AI is coming into its own, with innovations like Microsoft Copilot building slides, charts and documents on the fly, and even converting content from one format, say a document, to another, like a slide deck. As we have realized, ChatGPT and its ilk are reasonably proficient at cognitive tasks, and therefore have the potential to help humans in the third work area of creative tasks. Copy and Jasper help create great marketing material, Stable Diffusion and Dall-E2 create amazing images for artists and designers, Jukebox help create ad jingles and GitHub Copilot writes solid code. AI won’t create superlative pieces of work, at least not yet, and will require human workers to finesse and fine-tune its output to perfection. What this will do is enable you and me to focus more on the act part of work: being a star investigative journalist, for example, or a 10x programmer, creative marketer, or a meticulous accountant. In a sense, it will allow us to go back to the roots of work, where we can spend our working hours far more productively doing either high cognitive or intense manual jobs, leaving mundane and repetitive tasks to AI tools.

There is a flip side, though, to delegating basic jobs to AI. There are a lot of human workers who do these jobs to earn a living—whether they are customer service representatives, basic programmers or payroll accountants. As Generative AI sweeps across our organizations, these jobs are at risk; cases in point are Vodafone, which wants to cut jobs by nearly half and use AI instead, or IBM halting some recruitment for the same reason. This is where we humans will have to step up and learn how to work with AI and develop an “AI aptitude" as the WorkLab report calls it. We have been good at working with revolutionary technologies. We learnt how to use tools like fire, the personal computer and internet to make our work better and create new jobs for humans. We will have to do the same with this powerful technology and use it to lift ourselves away from the mundane and the monotonous. It will not be AI which takes our jobs, but other human beings using AI could, and we need to choose which of the two we are. We need to recalibrate.

Jaspreet Bindra is a technology expert, author of ‘The Tech Whisperer’, and is currently pursuing his Masters in AI and Ethics from Cambridge University

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
More Less
Updated: 26 May 2023, 01:45 AM IST
Recommended For You
Get alerts on WhatsApp
Set Preferences My Reads Watchlist Feedback Redeem a Gift Card Logout