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August 22, 2023updated 15 Nov 2023 7:27am

AI more likely to help jobs than take them, says UN agency

The growth in enterprise AI is more likely to enhance certain roles – most notably clerical vocations – than eliminate them, says the ILO.

By Ryan Morrison

Generative AI is unlikely to lead to mass job losses, according to the UN-backed International Labour Organisation. A new report by the ILO concluded that ChatGPT has a greater chance of augmenting existing roles by automating key processes than eliminating vocations entirely.

Workers will need to adapt to make use of artificial intelligence but it is unlikely to replace jobs (Photo: Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock)
Workers will need to adapt to make use of artificial intelligence but it is unlikely to replace jobs. (Photo by Gorodenkoff/Shutterstock)

The findings run counter to the conclusion many companies and analysts have reached since ChatGPT’s launch in November last year that generative AI is likely to trigger significant disruption in the labour market. Firms including IBM and BT have both announced plans to significantly reduce their workforce over the next decade as a result of the benefits from AI. Additionally, a Goldman Sachs report from March suggested as many as 300 million jobs could be degraded or lost due to AI.

For its part, the ILO has come to the opposite conclusion, arguing that many roles will be augmented by the addition of generative AI products and services. Its report, entitled ‘Generative AI and Jobs: A global analysis of potential effects on job quantity and quality’, found that most jobs and industries will only be partly exposed to automation. ‘The greatest impact of this technology is likely to not be job destruction but rather the potential changes to the quality of jobs, notably work intensity and autonomy,’ the report declares.

Some sectors and job types will be impacted more than others. The report found that clerical work was the most likely to be changed due to AI. Three-quarters of all tasks carried out in these jobs could face some degree of automation, whereas managers, professionals and technicians could see just a quarter of tasks exposed to automation.

Government support for AI jobs transition

The authors of the report considered the potential impact of generative AI on global workforces, finding that it would vary depending on the level of economic development in certain nations. For example, a wealthy country with higher income levels would see about 5.5% of total employment exposed to the impact of automation, as opposed to 0.4% in lower-income nations.  

As such, the report recommends that governments around the world design policies that support an orderly and fair transition to greater levels of automation. This includes taking into account input on the implementation of AI from workers themselves, the need for additional skills training and the provision of adequate social protections for citizens. The authors of the report additionally warn that without this, only a few well-prepared countries and markets will ultimately benefit from the widespread introduction of generative AI. Additionally, they warned that, for policymakers, “our study should not read as a calming voice, but rather as a call for harnessing policy to address the technological changes that are upon us”.

Currently, it appears that the impact of generative AI has been limited. According to an OECD labour market report published last month, which included a survey of thousands of employers and employees in manufacturing and finance, the introduction of generative AI platforms and tools has only heralded a gradual reduction in headcount at companies rather than swingeing job cuts. ‘Some companies even told us that, in the face of an ageing population and labour shortages, AI could help relieve some skills needs,’ the OECD report added.

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