AI threatens to automate away the clergy

Is divine intervention next on the tech to-do list?

God bless this mess. The UK's Department for Education has crunched the numbers and found that the country's clergy of all things is among the professions most at risk from AI.

"The impact of AI on UK jobs and training" report [PDF] was published yesterday as an attempt to quantify the ramifications of the wunder tech for the professional realm.

The research takes a method developed by Felten et al [PDF] in the States and applies it to a British context, with the outcome being an AI Occupational Exposure (AIOE) score.

"The AIOE score allows jobs to be ranked to show which jobs are more and less likely to be impacted by advances in AI, based on the abilities required to perform the job," the report states.

However, the researchers emphasize that "the estimates of which jobs are more exposed to AI are based on a number of uncertain assumptions so the results should be interpreted with caution."

It is indeed peculiar to find that religious roles are so exposed to the technology – the 13th highest ranking for large language models (LLMs) – when spirituality is by all accounts an entirely human phenomenon.

All the same, ChatGPT garnered headlines earlier this year after 300 churchgoers attended a service led by OpenAI's LLM in Germany. As we reported, some dismissed it for having "no heart or soul," while others said they were "pleasantly surprised how well it worked."

The jobs ranked above the clergy start with telephone salespersons at the top, through solicitors, psychologists, further education teaching professionals, market and street traders and assistants, legal professionals, credit controllers, HR admin roles, PR professionals, management consultants and business analysts, market research interviewers, and local government administrative occupations.

Some of these are more understandable than others. For example, from a journalist's perspective, we are well aware that business analysts and PRs could be entirely replaced by LLMs and no one would be any the wiser.

Though we would express some concern about people putting their mental health in the hands of an AI psychologist or someone trusting their legal woes to an LLM.

Unfortunately, the latter does have some precedent. Lawyers in the US have been sanctioned for using ChatGPT to write legal documents. They asked the chatbot for examples of past cases to use in filings, but the results were just made up, landing them with a $5,000 fine and a telling-off from the judge.

"The occupations most exposed to AI include more professional occupations, particularly those associated with more clerical work and across finance, law and business management roles," the report states. "This includes management consultants and business analysts, accountants, and psychologists. This compares to the occupations least exposed to AI, which include sport professionals, roofers and steel erectors."

That's right, there is hope for those trapped in a highly automatable career. You could pivot to fork-lift truck driving, construction, plastering, tiling, dry cleaning, LGV driving, sewing ... really anything for which opposable thumbs are a prerequisite. At least until the combination of AI and advanced robotics negate these opportunities too, but they are some of the roles believed to have a low exposure to AI applications.

On that note, a Siemens manager told The Times & Sunday Times Future of Food and Drink event in Aberdeen on Tuesday that employing workers to carry out "mundane" jobs that could be automated is "criminal."

"Let's be quite frank – some of the human interventions we have in a lot of food factories aren't proper jobs," said Keith Thornhill. "They are really mundane jobs that should be automated – and how we even let people pick up these kind of jobs is really criminal."

He added: "I don't think you'll ever see a situation where you're totally human-less, but there is clearly a lot of space for more automation in these processes without going too far."

As an esteemed reader of The Register, we suppose you'll be wondering where programming and software development rank on the AIOE index. After all, Microsoft has been injecting its OpenAI-based Copilot services into every corner of its empire, from GitHub to Windows, and we have heard from real-life devs of their successes using tools like ChatGPT to troubleshoot particularly knotty coding bugs.

You might be relieved to know that we had to drill into the Department for Education's data sources because the field didn't figure in the report proper, coming 80th for exposure to LLMs. Systems architects and designers fared even better, ranking 99th.

In comparison, lowly journalists and newspaper and periodical editors came 31st. That's us by the way so ... we'll see you on the other side of the AI revolution, or not as the case may well be.

As admitted by the researchers, the report's usefulness is open to debate. When it comes to the clergy in particular, it's a case of "just because you could doesn't mean you should." Yes, you can automate the writing of a sermon, but just because a priest or what have you couldn't be bothered to do it doesn't mean the congregation will be bothered to take it seriously. As far as we know, ChatGPT doesn't commune with the big guy upstairs.

Some things simply need a human touch or they quickly descend into meaninglessness. We hope so anyway, for all our sakes. ®

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