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The arrival of artificial intelligence is often met with fear of it becoming, among other things, this living sentient overlord, an all-encompassing algorithmic landlord over humanity. However, the early AI use cases are showing a far more empowering future — one that will actually create more jobs and opportunities for humans, not fewer.
That may seem like a shocking assertion, given the decades of news headlines and science fiction novels predicting how AI would soon replace everything from truck drivers and mall cops to artists and CEOs. However, those fears ignore an important consideration: the people behind the AI joystick and the fact that they will continue to remain driven by human nature.
Human nature, human jobs
People are driven by the desire to succeed, and not just to the point of mere survival. A Princeton study found that the highest earners tend to work longer hours and spend less time in leisure or social activities. When the New York Times asked why many of the ultra-wealthy continue to work long past their financial needs are met, it had a simple answer: “Are the wealthy addicted to money, competition, or just feeling important? Yes.”
One might quibble with the phrasing there, but the point remains: Attaining and maintaining status remains a primary motivator for successful people. No matter what level of success they have had, they will continue to try to keep growing and beat the competition, and that is a compelling reason to be bullish about the future of human jobs in the age of AI.
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After all, if AI can do 10 times the work of a coder, the majority of companies won’t fire nine of their 10 software engineers. They’re just going to 100 times the amount of output they can produce with their current team of 10.
In fact, they will probably add more because they will be getting exponentially higher returns on their investment with each hire. Let’s say you bought a home, and it doubled its value in a year. Would you regret that decision?
No. If anything, you probably would wish that you had bought even more homes in that neighborhood.
The AI of today is not the fully self-driving AI of tomorrow. Its promise in this early stage is in its ability to help augment human hands to build bigger, faster and better: It is a digital forklift, eventually capable of graduating us from mud houses to skyscrapers.
AI on the march
It’s no wonder, then, that the web is seeing an explosion in things built by AI.
It’s already led to a significant surge in the number and diversity of digital applications available to people, helping people by doing market research, building out and expanding sales funnels, writing sketches of marketing copy that can be edited and refined, and many other things.
It will soon lead to a staggering increase in the amount of online content people can consume, with creators able to take their ideas and generate new courses, videos and written posts to bring those ideas to a still under-tapped and under-utilized audience.
Certainly, some companies will use AI as an excuse to lay off staff in droves. While announcing it was letting go of 12,000 people in January, Google cited its decision to become “AI-first” and the fact that it had “AI across our products” as reasons to remain optimistic about the company’s health.
In some cases, companies are even having algorithms do the firing.
However, the workforce has already been becoming even more decentralized and globally distributed for years. Thanks to new technologies, the world has seen a massive rise in freelancers leading independent work lifestyles that now include phrases like “digital nomad” and “solopreneur.”
With AI, more and more of those people will spin out lucrative opportunities with very little overhead outside of their own time, energy and investment. They will not have to rely on Google, Microsoft or Facebook to employ them because they will have the AI tools at their disposal to be million-dollar businesses unto themselves.
Meanwhile, those who do still want to work in a traditional employee arrangement will still have plenty of opportunities to do so. The evolution of Microsoft Excel didn’t displace the finance industry: It grew it.
And just as using spreadsheets became a necessary and even lucrative skillset, effectively using AI will become one, too — one that the hungriest and most competitive companies will gladly pay for so that they can do more and grow more.
The workforce will change, but it won’t be replaced. And what AI will help humanity generate from that transformation is well worth getting excited about.
Jack O’Holleran is cofounder and CEO of SKALE Labs, the team behind SKALE.
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