Will AI take our jobs? That's what everyone is talking about at Davos right now

CEOs believe generative AI will make their companies more efficient, but more energy is needed to power the tech

The one question on leaders' minds as they debate the future of generative AI at this year's World Economic Forum in Davos is how the tech might change the future of employment.

The annual gabfest attracts thousands of attendees, including top academics, businesses, and representatives of governments to mull over the most pressing global issues. Given the potential for generative AI to upend economies, it's not surprising the tech is dominating many discussions this year.

It's not clear when AI will impact economies by changing employment patterns, but OpenAI's CEO Sam Altman doesn't believe that jobs are currently at risk.

"This is much more of a tool than I expected," he told a Davos panel session. "It'll get better, but it's not yet replacing jobs. It is this incredible tool for productivity. This is a tool that magnifies what humans do, lets people do their jobs better and lets the AI do parts of jobs."

Consulting giant PwC surveyed 4,702 CEOs and found 45 percent believed the rise of AI means their business models might not survive in over ten years' time.

"There's the 55 percent who think they don't have to change radically, and I would argue that's a little naive because the world is changing so fast around them," PwC's Global Chairman Bob Moritz reportedly explained.

About 60 percent of respondents to PWC's probe said they expect generative AI to make their companies more efficient. Software that can automatically process and generate text and images will boost workers' productivity, by helping them to respond to emails, analyze reports, and draft presentations more quickly.

As employees are pushed into using these tools, their jobs will change if not disappear, some have predicted. The International Monetary Fund predicted that almost 40 percent of global employment is exposed to AI and in more developed countries as much as 60 percent of jobs may be impacted by the technology.

"Historically, automation and information technology have tended to affect routine tasks, but one of the things that sets AI apart is its ability to impact high-skilled jobs. As a result, advanced economies face greater risks from AI—but also more opportunities to leverage its benefits—compared with emerging market and developing economies," the IMF explained.

"Roughly half the exposed jobs may benefit from AI integration, enhancing productivity. For the other half, AI applications may execute key tasks currently performed by humans, which could lower labor demand, leading to lower wages and reduced hiring. In the most extreme cases, some of these jobs may disappear."

AI might make us more productive, but is it right?

Generative AI tools are infamously imperfect, however. Workers relying on them in their jobs will have to be diligent about checking for any errors. Employees will require training to use generative AI effectively. Pat Gelsinger, CEO of Intel, said that the technology needs to become more accurate to be useful.

"You've now reached the end of today's AI utility," he told CNBC. "This next phase of AI, I believe, will be about building formal correctness into the underlying models."

"There's a whole lot of other problems that aren't solved. How do you prove that a large language model is actually right? There's a lot of errors today. So, you still need to know, essentially, I'm improving the productivity of a knowledge worker. But at the end of the day, I need the knowledge worker to say is it right."

Attendees are torn over the speed of AI's progress and have questioned whether the technology is a force for good considering how disruptive it might be to people's livelihoods.

"Powerful tech companies are already pursuing profits with a reckless disregard for human rights, personal privacy, and social impact," the United Nations' secretary general, António Guterres, warned.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, however, was more optimistic. He believes that AI will change the workforce and make workers more efficient and so productive that they'll be able to work less. At first white-collar jobs will be impacted by generative AI, and then eventually blue-collar jobs will be affected by robotics, predicted.

"The world will be richer, and you can work less and have more," he opined. ®

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