ChatGPT is the Myspace of AI: It's fun, but it's far from taking your white-collar job
- ChatGPT has been used by creators, traders, and many others to make their jobs easier.
- Despite excitement around ChatGPT and GPT-4, there are concerns about AI tools taking jobs.
One of the biggest questions about the future of work in 2023 is how AI tools like ChatGPT are going to change the way we do our jobs.
Will we be replaced by robots? Will they turbocharge productivity and make everyone richer? Or are they just the latest techno-fad, doomed to a hype-fueled boom and bust cycle?
Before GPT-4 was unveiled on Tuesday, ChatGPT "was estimated to have reached 100 million monthly active users" in January, according to Insider's Sawdah Bhaimiya. Podcasters, traders, realtors, creators, teachers, and job seekers have all used it to help save time and effort. It has also been listed as an author or coauthor of e-books and has been used by one person to make crochet patterns.
But ChatGPT isn't the first chatbot or artificial intelligence tool to change the way we work.
So why all the hype?
According to Daniela Rus, a professor and director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, it's because it's the first widely accessible and easy-to-use AI tool for non-experts.
"The accessibility in the hands of the everyday user has meant extensive discussions around the tool, in part, due to fear," Rus told Insider. "This can be largely inevitable when people don't understand how the underlying technology works, and what it's truly capable of."
White-collar workers might be especially worried, as the new tools appear to be coming for the type of knowledge-work that has resisted earlier rounds of automation.
"When we look back a few years, it looked like that automation in blue-collar jobs like self-driving cars, self-driving trucks would accelerate very rapidly. But to some degree, the large language models now have overtaken those advances in automation in pace and really coming upon us very fast," Sanjay Patnaik, director of the Center on Regulation and Markets at Brookings, said while introducing a virtual event on Wednesday. "And, interestingly, a lot of those tasks that ChatGPT and large language models can actually replace or can help augment are tasks in the white-collar working space."
William Lee, chief economist at the Milken Institute, shared a similar thought in an interview with Insider.
"Artificial intelligence may have a role in displacing, or at least reducing, the need for less skilled workers," Lee said.
For now, what ChatGPT can actually do is fairly limited, experts told Insider. While chatbots and other tools that use AI could put some jobs at risk, most users should embrace the chatbot to make their lives easier.
The Myspace or Netscape browser of AI
To JJ Johannes, a real estate agent with a background in tech, ChatGPT is what Myspace was to social media. It's an early, accessible version on which other iterations will build. He has been using ChatGPT to help with tasks like writing online listings and social media posts, which is saving him time. He told Insider that "technology always evolves" and that while "ChatGPT is the catchy thing right now," it's not the only kind of AI available and might not be the last iteration.
IBM CEO Arvind Krishna told the Financial Times that "the marketing moment offered by ChatGPT is incredible. We've seen these moments before: a company called Netscape brought the web browser to everybody's attention."
"I mean Netscape was not an eventual winner but the internet certainly was," Krishna added. "I think what ChatGPT has done [is] helped make AI real to lots of people who kind of were aware of it but didn't maybe quite see what the power of AI would be."
"So just realize that the technology's going to keep evolving and while ChatGPT is the hot topic of AI, there's a lot of other components to AI and there might be other iterations especially to this input, output that you get from ChatGPT answering questions," Johannes said.
ChatGPT isn't coming for white-collar workers yet, but it shows where AI could be going
Chatbots are already prevalent in customer service and AI has been in use with precision medicine in healthcare as well as many major tech companies.
Hope Bradford, senior director of digital transformation at Kelly, a staffing and workforce company, told Insider that AI tools help HR professionals screen candidates. She said that they have also been used to match résumés with both job titles and descriptions. These tools "continue to evolve," she said, adding that "now ChatGPT has taken it to a whole 'nother level of going, oh, it's more than just a matching tool. It's doing other things."
The technology is already changing as seen with OpenAI's newly unveiled GPT-4 large language model. Among its improvements over its predecessors, GPT-4 can take "image and text inputs, emitting text outputs," according to OpenAI's website.
"GPT-4 demonstrates how the power of AI is proliferating due to scale of data and computing as well as ease of use. Its performance on AP exams and numerous other academic and professional standards is very impressive," Rus, the MIT professor, told Insider. "OpenAI has taken several steps to address many of the shortcomings of its prior versions."
Outside of just chatbots like ChatGPT or new large language models like GPT-4, automation has already had a strong presence in the workplace. Lee pointed to automation in assembly lines or in construction.
"I think it really is at the sphere of a white-collar workplace revolution where the tip of this sphere is really going to impinge on the lower-level skilled jobs," Lee told Insider.
But ChatGPT isn't doing that right now.
"Right now it's nowhere near ready for real-world use other than as entertainment, but the trend is clearly there that ChatGPT will be, or some version of it would be, the future for all white-collar workers and even into the research world." Lee said.
"I would classify ChatGPT as a smart high school freshman, and I don't want a professional to be a smart high school freshman doing triage at a hospital or intake at a doctor's office or a lawyer's office," Lee said in a February interview.
So will we replaced by robots? Are white-collar workers' jobs at risk of being cut because of AI tools? What does ChatGPT mean now and for the future? While people have found success and the pros of AI tools, there's still uncertainty about their future and fears still loom.
"I think there's been conversation over time about many cycles of jobs being at risk as automation comes around and how those jobs evolve even from the very beginning of mechanics starting to evolve and those jobs actually change into other jobs," Bradford said.
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