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What impact will AI really have on white-collar jobs?

The fear and discontent of the modern office worker now has AI to worry about, say pundits. But there’s something about this technological innovation that might be its saving grace.

5 min read

Career-Technical EducationDigital TechnologyTechnology

modern office workers

How will AI impact the creative collaboration of modern office workers? (Getty Images)

Imagine an HR chatbot telling you, “The company no longer requires your services.” Your first reaction might be, “Spam. In the bin, you go,” — it’s written in AI-speak, after all. Then, your reaction changes when you get official confirmation and a final check from HR. 

This scenario isn’t real, but the general feeling around AI in regard to employment has many segments of industry in panic mode. This article from Pew Research from last year analyzed workers and notes that mostly, “if AI can either perform their most important activities entirely or help with them,” that’s a job that is in danger of being performed by AI.

“AI can replace one tedious task, but it also complements and even creates others that it couldn’t do alone. This is something that current AI-driven systems can do, and businesses are seeing the benefits,” writes Sania Khan of Eightfold AI in this Inc. article

On the other hand, businesses are in the business to stay in business and with shortsightedness, they’ll take shortcuts. Khan opines: “Right now there’s a real risk that firms will primarily adopt middling AI systems that are productive enough to displace workers, but not productive enough to increase labor demand through other channels.” 

AI can hurt — and help

If there’s an industry where that is rife with those possibilities, it’s essentially any type of content creation. Scriptwriters in Hollywood just took to the picket lines against AI-generated content. Magazine and site content writers and ad copywriters already envision AI facilitating the writing process so well and thoroughly that it may eventually drive human-written copy as a job into obsolescence. Or, at least that was my reaction to the headline of this article, “AI won’t replace B2B copywriters, because it can’t.” 

I did the Travis Bickle double-take and self-reflected, “You talkin’ to me?”

The headline seemed misleading (aha! clickbait!), but upon further reading, it spoke right at me. The author, in fact, makes the case for using ChatGPT to help with copywriting – essentially, don’t get left behind because you’ll need AI to keep your job. Many news and content sites are testing out AI, and they’ve come through with a modest amount of success. I continue to experiment and explore with similar AI tools, personally and professionally, but have yet to allow them to contribute directly to any of my work bound for publication. 

The headline also intimates two notions about copywriter obsolescence that are worth discussing: AI lacks human-ness and it can’t write good copy. 

For the first notion, that might not hold true for long. As AI methodology improves and evolves, there will come a time when researchers will provide AI the capability to replicate the hormonal chemistry we use to communicate and add emotion and feeling and infer meaning from the words we type. It’s the secret sauce to being human, almost like those “I’m not a robot” security tests. However,  instead, AI will be able to identify you’re a human by your correct reaction to a video of an abandoned dog in a PSA. When researchers and scientists developing AI capabilities can encapsulate that kind of humanity into AI’s creative process and output, we might be in trouble.

As for the second notion, that might come even sooner. The proliferation and success of fake ads (“The savings hack Amazon doesn’t want you to know about”) and clickbait headlines (“I used Garth Brooks’ secret ingredient in my chili, and now I won’t make it any other way”) aimed at B2C. It’s evident that companies creating ads for B2B will sooner rather than later deem AI copy (written with or without human emotion) to be acceptable when there is a positive ROI of AI over human-written copy. 

We have nothing to fear with new technology

Allow me to take a left turn for a second and give you some background on what I’ve known over my several decades covering IT employment. As a writer and editor who has covered IT and information systems development for a few decades, it continues to hold true that any technological innovation is often met with equal amounts of fear and skepticism. 

One of the more recent examples in the last decade is cloud computing, which still engenders fear of mass job loss among IT administrators and systems developers. What happens to us when you can automatically spin up a server on a cloud at the touch of a button or have a black box spit out orchestration code? IT admins are still needed, and not just to replace hardware. As cloud servers take the place of on-site network servers, there’s so much more operational work to tailor and maintain those cloud-based services. As for developers, the next Angry Birds app will still need human creativity just to germinate.

Whatever fears IT or developers had, it follows that any other job segment will face the same with AI. Even copywriters will have to figure out what their future will look like in the face of innovation. 

What does the future hold? Who knows? It might not look the same as it does now or be completely different, but there will always be a place for creative, persuasive minds. And, AI might even help figure out what that future might be.