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AI: 3 ways artificial intelligence is changing the future of work

  • An article by Mark Rayner, Insight Lead, Education, Skills and Learning, World Economic Forum

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) has dominated the business agenda since chatbot ChatGPT burst on to the scene in late 2022.

  • Generative AI is estimated to eventually automate millions of jobs, but its employment benefits are harder to quantify.

  • Here are three ways that artificial intelligence will change the future of work, and why its likely to augment rather than automate.


Since ChatGPT burst on to the scene in November 2022, generative artificial intelligence (AI) has come to dominate the business agenda.


Boosts of a few percentage points in productivity are weighed against labour-market disruptions, with Goldman Sachs estimating that generative AI will eventually automate 300 million of today’s jobs.


The employment benefits of generative AI are harder to quantify, but the Future of Jobs report’s cohort of 800 global business leaders is well placed to shed light on the future.


Here are three ways that AI will change the future of work:


1. AI will drive job creation


Businesses responding to our survey expect artificial intelligence to be a net job creator in the coming five years. Nearly half (49%) of companies expect adopting AI to create jobs, well ahead of the 23% of respondents who expect it to displace jobs.


The ranks of AI-linked roles such as data scientists, big data specialists and business intelligence analysts are expected to swell by 30 to 35%, with growth nearer 45% in companies operating in China.


Employment gains are expected to be strongest in the automotive and aerospace industry, where 73% of companies expect employment gains. The research, design and business management services, information and technology services and electronics sectors follow closely behind.


Though the outlook is sometimes mixed, only four of the 27 industries studied expect net job losses. Workers in the oil and gas industry may be most exposed, with 45% of companies expecting losses, 35% forecasting job creation and 20% predicting no effect on employment.


The real estate, media, entertainment and sports and production of consumer goods industries are the only other sectors to predict a negative outlook regarding AI’s impact on employment.


A trickier question is who will benefit and who will be most at risk. A Chinese study of the country’s manufacturing sector showed that artificial intelligence reduced the demand for low-skilled labour across all regions and raised demand for high-skilled labour in the east of the country.


But the picture may be shifting as AI masters increasingly complex tasks. In April, researchers in the US found that highly-educated and highly-paid professions are likely to be most exposed to generative AI.


2. Businesses will prioritize AI skills


AI and big data is the number one skills priority for companies with more than 50,000 employees. Beating out 25 other skill clusters spanning the range of hard and soft skills needed in the workplace, the ability to boost business performance using artificial intelligence is the number one focus of investment in skills training for large companies responding to this year's Future of Jobs survey.


Across the full data sample, which spans small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and large multinationals, AI and big data ranks behind only analytical and creative thinking in skills strategies for the 2023 to 2027 period.


This is particularly striking as the C-suite executives responding to the survey only ranked this skill cluster 16th in terms of its importance to workers today. Exploiting artificial intelligence is a skill of the future.


Public-private cooperation on skills training will be key to making sure everyone is swept along by the wave of increased productivity.


Initiatives such as TeachAI, a collaboration between the World Economic Forum, Code.org and foremost leaders and experts on artificial intelligence, aims to integrate AI and computer science skills in education to ensure that the next generation of talent is prepared for the future of work.


Similarly, the Education 4.0 Alliance aims to surface promising examples of public-private collaboration leveraging new technologies to develop future-ready skills. At the same time UNESCO is offering thought leadership on the need for AI skills in technical and vocational education and training – a crucial focus if the benefits of AI are to be shared by all segments of the global labour market.


3. Tasks will be augmented, not automated by AI


Despite technological strides forward, this year’s Future of Jobs report suggests that businesses are becoming more sceptical about the potential for artificial intelligence to fully automate work tasks. Executives estimate that 34% of tasks are already automated – just one percentage point ahead of the figure reported in the Future of Jobs Report 2020.


Future expectations for automation are also being revised down, as markets climb the human-machine landscape more slowly than previously anticipated. Respondents to this year’s survey forecast that an additional 9% of operational tasks will be automated in the next five years – a reduction of five percentage points compared to expectations in 2020.


The difference is a growing consensus that artificial intelligence will augment human performance rather than fully supplanting it. For example, a survey of AI experts published in June last year showed that most managerial skills are likely to be augmented rather than automated by AI.


Only information gathering and simple decision-making are likely to be fully automated, and leadership and imagination skills will be largely unaffected by AI.


Impact of generative AI on jobs?


The next edition of the Jobs of Tomorrow report, in collaboration with Accenture, will shed further light on which jobs will see the largest impacts from generative AI – whether through automation, augmentation, or both. Watch this space – results are due to be published at the Sustainable Development Impact Meetings in September.


Some 75% of companies are set to have adopted AI technologies by 2027. Meanwhile, 80% plan to accelerate automation during this period.


But the Future of Jobs Report 2023 suggests that humans won’t be left behind by the AI revolution – an even greater fraction plan to invest in learning and training on the job. After all, artificial intelligence skills are at the heart of the reskilling revolution.

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