- By Ian Rosa
- Business reporter, BBC News
Until recently Dean Meadowcroft was a copywriter in a small marketing department.
His duties included writing press releases, social media posts, and other content for his company.
But then, late last year, his company introduced an artificial intelligence (AI) system.
“The idea at the time was that he would work alongside human copywriters to help speed up the process, essentially simplifying things a little bit more,” he says.
Mr. Meadowcroft wasn’t overly impressed with the AI’s work.
“It kind of made everyone look in the middle of the street, on the fence, and look exactly the same, and so nobody really stands out.”
The content also had to be checked by human staff to make sure it hadn’t been removed anywhere else.
But the AI was fast. What might take a human copywriter 60 to 90 minutes to write, AI could do it in 10 minutes or less.
About four months after the introduction of artificial intelligence, Mr. Meadowcroft’s team of four was fired.
Mr. Meadowcroft can’t be sure, but he’s pretty sure artificial intelligence has replaced them.
“I laughed at the idea of AI displacing writers or influencing my work, until it did,” she said.
The latest wave of AI hit late last year when OpenAI launched ChatGPT.
Backed by Microsoft, ChatGPT can give human answers to questions and can, within minutes, generate essays, speeches, and even recipes.
While not perfect, such systems are trained on the ocean of data available on the Internet—an amount of information that is impossible for even a team of humans to digest.
So many have wondered which jobs might be at risk.
Any job losses would not fall equally across the economy. According to the report, 46% of tasks in administrative professions and 44% in legal professions could be automated, but only 6% in construction and 4% in maintenance.
The report also points out that the introduction of AI could boost productivity and growth and could create new jobs.
There is already some evidence of this.
The mobile giant says 47% of customer calls are now handled by an AI called Billie.
While IKEA does not see any job losses from its use of artificial intelligence, such developments are worrying many people.
A recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group (BGC), which polled 12,000 workers from around the world, found that a third were worried about being replaced by artificial intelligence in the workplace, with frontline staff more concerned than managers .
BGC’s Jessica Apotheker says it’s partly due to a fear of the unknown.
“When you look at leaders and managers, we have over 80% of them using AI on at least a weekly basis. When you look at frontline staff, that number drops to 20%, so with lack of familiarity with the technology there comes a lot more anxiety and worry about the results for them.”
But perhaps there is good reason to be anxious.
For three months last year, Alejandro Graue worked as a voiceover for a popular YouTube channel.
It seemed to be a promising line of work, an entire YouTube channel in English had to be re-dubbed into Spanish.
Mr Graue went on holiday late last year confident there would be work on his return.
“I expected to have that money to live on — I have two daughters, so I need the money,” she says.
But to her surprise, before she got back to work, the YouTube channel uploaded a new video in Spanish, which she hadn’t worked on.
“When I clicked on it, what I heard wasn’t my voice, but an AI-generated voice — a very poorly timed voiceover. It was terrible. And I thought, what is this? It’s like what if you were my new partner in crime like the channel? or is this who will replace me?” he says.
A phone call to the firm he worked for confirmed the worst. The client wanted to experiment with AI because it was cheaper and faster.
That experiment proved to be a failure. Viewers complained about the quality of the voiceover, and the channel eventually removed the videos that featured the AI-generated voice.
But Mr. Graue did not find it very comforting. He thinks technology will only get better and wonders where that will leave voice-over artists like himself.
“If this starts happening in every job I have, what should I do? Should I buy a farm? I don’t know. What other job could I look for that doesn’t get replaced in the future as well? It’s very complicated,” she says.
If AI doesn’t come for your job, chances are you need to start working with one somehow.
After a few months of freelance work, former copywriter Dean Meadowcroft took a new direction.
He now works for an employee assistance provider, who provides wellbeing and mental health counseling to staff. Working with artificial intelligence is now part of his job.
“I think this is where the future is for AI, giving quick access to human-driven content, instead of completely eliminating that human aspect,” he says.
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