ChatGPT, horses, and jobs


Monchito Ibrahim

My first Tech4GOOD column this year featured an article that was fully generated by an AI tool called ChatGPT. I just wanted to show everyone how powerful AI systems today are, specifically generative AI such as ChatGPT. Fast forward to today, ChatGPT seems to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. The barrage of emails I got after that column was released typically centers on the impact of AI on jobs that we know today. Most of them reflect the apprehensions about job loss due to powerful AI tools that can do a better job of today’s work. I have to say that the possibility of most of those concerns happening is relatively high. But should we really worry about it? Are all these innovations just about losing jobs?

Whether you look at the first industrial revolution or the fourth’s technology-led transformation, automation has always been regarded with trepidation. Let’s try to look back at history. Before the advent of steam engines, economic productions were practically done manually. Horse-driven transportation was the prevailing mode of physical mobility. Then the steam engines disrupted everything ushering in the first industrial revolution. Jobs linked to horse stables, hay cutters, and street horse manure cleaners, for example, all disappeared. Most workers at that time were so worried about the threat that the steam engine brought. However, we saw that new jobs emerged like engine mechanics, steam engineers, and boiler operators. And that has been the cycle every time an innovation disrupts the usual way things are done. Should people today worry about AI and robots rendering their jobs obsolete? Not if they start to understand how those tools are best put to good use, like enhancing their ability to do more or do better.

This cycle of job loss and new jobs is not exclusive to innovations in AI alone. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the global shift to electric vehicles is expected to result in about 180,000 jobs disappearing but 150,000 new jobs in the US alone will be created. The World Economic Forum also projects that 2.7 million jobs related to fossil-powered energy will be lost because of the shift to clean energy. It also says, however, that 10.3 million net new jobs will be created because of this shift.

Last week, I wrote about how one can keep up with evolving and emerging jobs. And I presented some possible ways for us to do this: lifelong learning and the ability to anticipate industry trends.

Most of the questions asked of me when I came out with the ChatGPT-generated column were from educators. While some of them were concerned with their future as teachers, most revolved around the use of the tool for cheating in schoolwork. How would they know if the paper submitted by a student is ChatGPT-generated? One of the ways a teacher would know if the student did not write it is to ask ChatGPT to write on the same topic. If it generates something similarly worded, then it is most probably not an original work. Generally, ChatGPT can be a powerful tool for the teacher. It can be used to create interactive tutorials, quizzes, and other educational materials, which can help the teacher become more effective and productive. It can also help students learn and study more efficiently.

In the workplace, ChatGPT can help automate tasks that currently require human input like generating written content or generating responses to customer inquiries. All of these can lead to reduced specialized manpower. On the other hand, the use of the tool can also create new job opportunities like hiring individuals to manage and oversee the use of it in their operations, trainers, and AI language consultants.

With the ability to generate humanlike text and insights coming from a wide range of sources on the internet, ChatGPT can impact jobs by improving efficiency and productivity. It can assist with tasks such as data entry, research, and content creation allowing human employees to focus on more complicated tasks. As with any technological advancements, there are ethical considerations regarding the use of the tool that we all need to be mindful of. The use of ChatGPT to generate written content may raise questions about the authenticity and credibility of the source. We all must therefore exercise caution in using AI-generated content verbatim.

The advent of technologies such as AI has fanned fears that it will one day make human beings obsolete in the workplace. We can blame that assumption on how AI has been portrayed in the media and sci-fi movies. Add to that the fact that AI has already made inroads in efficiently automating many tasks once executed by humans. So, it is just natural for some of us to fear that these innovations could be the beginning of the end of work as we know it.

For now, you can put your fears to bed. Innovations like ChatGPT are not here for your job, at least not yet.

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 The author is the lead convenor of the Alliance for Technology Innovators for the Nation (ATIN), vice president of the Analytics Association of the Philippines, and vice president, UP System Information Technology Foundation.