Artificial intelligence (AI) is normally cast as wreaking havoc and destroying jobs in reports about its increasing use by firms. The current coverage of telecom group BT’s plans to decrease its quantity of staff is a case in point.
Having said that, although it is AI that is featured in the headlines, in this case, it is the shift from copper to optical fibre in the BT network that is the actual story.
When I was a boy, workers for the GPO – the Basic Post Workplace, the forerunner of BT – have been normal shoppers in my parents’ newsagent’s shop. They drove about in lorries erecting telegraph poles and repairing overhead phone wires. Instances – and technologies – have changed, and continue to adjust. BT’s transition from copper to optical fibre is basically the most up-to-date technologies transition.
This move by BT has necessary a huge, one particular-off work, which is coming to an finish, along with the jobs it designed. And due to the fact fibre is much more trusted, there is significantly less will need for a workforce of fitters in the field carrying out repairs.
This will adjust the shape of BT as an operation: rather than an organisation of men and women in vans, it will have a network designers and managers who, for the most portion, can monitor gear in the field remotely.
This is taking place in other sectors also. Rolls-Royce aircraft engines are monitored as they are flying from an workplace in Derby. The photocopier in your workplace – if you nonetheless have an workplace (or a photocopier for that matter) – is likely also monitored automatically by the supplier, without the need of a technician going anyplace close to it.
AI could contribute in portion to the reduction in consumer service jobs at BT by getting capable to speed up and assistance somewhat routine tasks, such as screening calls or writing letters and emails to shoppers.
But this ordinarily does not take the type of a “robot” replacing a worker by taking more than their whole job. It is much more a case of AI technologies assisting human workers – acting as “co-pilots” – to be much more productive in particular tasks.
This at some point reduces the all round quantity of employees necessary. And, in the BT story, AI is only described in respect of one particular-fifth of the jobs to be reduce, and even then, only as one particular of the causes.
In my personal investigation amongst law and accountancy firms with my colleagues James Faulconbridge and Atif Sarwar, AI-primarily based technologies extremely hardly ever basically do items faster and less costly. Rather, they automate some tasks, but their analytical capabilities also present additional insights into clients’ issues.
Greater tips, new jobs
A law firm may possibly use a document critique package to search for challenge clauses in hundreds of leases, for instance. It can then use the all round pattern of what is discovered as a basis for advising a client on managing their house portfolio far better.
Similarly, in auditing, AI technologies can automate the process of acquiring suspicious transactions amongst thousands of entries, but also create insights that support the client to have an understanding of their dangers and strategy their cashflow much more proficiently.
In these methods, the technologies can permit law and accountancy firms to give added advisory solutions to clientele. AI adoption also creates new sorts
of jobs, such as engineers and information scientists in law firms.
Current advances in generative AI – which produce text or pictures in response to prompts, with ChatGPT and GPT four getting the most clear examples – do present new possibilities and issues. There is no doubt that they exhibit some potentially new capabilities and even, for some, “sparks” of artificial common intelligence.
These technologies will have an effect on perform and adjust some sorts of jobs. But they are not the key culprit in the BT case, and researchers and journalists alike will need to maintain a cool head and examine the proof in every single case.
We ought to strive to act responsibly when innovating with AI, as with any other technologies. But also: beware the knee-jerk, sensationalist response to the use of AI in perform.