- Automation impact. Generative AI will wipe out entire sectors and industries, including white-collar jobs.
- Positive disruption. The disruption caused by AI could lead to positive societal and economic changes.
- Attention to displacement. The impact of AI on white-collar jobs will generate more attention and concern than the impact on manual laborers, leading to potential positive change for all workers.
A recent New York Times story headline asked the following question — one that has been on the mind of anyone who makes their living by using only their brain: “Tinkering With ChatGPT, Workers Wonder: Will This Take My Job?”
In my view, the answer to that question is an unqualified, "Yes!"
The Massive Impact of Generative AI on Jobs
Yes, ChatGPT, along with the tidal wave of other generative AI technologies and applications and tools and widgets, etc., will indeed wipe out not just jobs, but entire sectors. And the disruption will be not only massive and wide, but it will also be swift.
Positive Change: Moving Away from Late-Stage Capitalism
But instead of the trepidation that we are all justifiably feeling, I believe that this development is an eminently positive one for anyone who believes that unless we move away from our current late-stage capitalism arrangement, where economic growth is fueled exclusively by the dogma of profit maximization at any and all cost, unimaginable disaster is our imminent collective fate.
Let me explain.
Related Article: ChatGPT Is All the Rage but Don't Stop Learning Just Yet
White-Collar Job Loss and the Uproar That Will Follow
First, it is important to note that what ChatGPT and Generative AI are going to do to white-collar labor is what “labor saving devices” (as they were called back when they were beginning to be introduced) did and have been doing for more than 100 years to blue-collar workers and laborers. In other words, this — doubtless, a monumental and inexorable push to cut the cost of production in the pursuit of greater bottom-line profit — is not in any way anything new.
Now, what is new, however, is that while no one other than those who lost their jobs really cared much about the fate of manual laborers (most certainly not the white-collar ones, who in the main rarely ever gave a thought or a feeling of sympathy to those who suffered, beyond telling their children to work hard and get good grades, lest they end up like the wretched and the unfortunate), in the case of white-collar job loss, expect something quite different. Expect a general, loud uproar from a wide swath of workers who have so far been feeling that, although they were far from where they thought they should be, given that they did go to school and did get good grades, and did work hard to get those expensive degrees, and are in fact plunking down not an insignificant of portion of their salary to pay for those degrees — that all in all, especially compared to those who use their hands — the situation is all in all bearable enough.
Related Article: ChatGPT Is Already Replacing Humans in the Workplace
Beyond White-Collar Jobs: The Impact on Elite Professionals
And AI is not going to confine itself to swallowing only the jobs of such workers. It will also make short-shrift of those who have so far been enjoying cushy, elite jobs: the consultants and the researchers and the professors and the “experts” (not to mention those who surround them and who occupy mainly what anthropologist David Graeber has recently dubbed as ”bullshit jobs”).
Indeed, as a result of this gargantuan disruption that will affect the self-declared “best and brightest” among us, we will no longer hear the same facile and cold-hearted speak that we have heard when what was being decimated was blue-collar labor. Talk such as, "Well, this is 'the price' that 'we' have to 'pay' for progress,' because the 'pain' and the 'disruption' were nothing but 'the cost' for such 'progress (I put emphasis here only on the most odious of the euphemisms that are often used by those who speak them, coldly and heartlessly), will begin to sound cruel and inconsiderate. They — what the newly disturbed white-collars always considered to be “the other,” the manual laborers — have never really had any powerful lobbies behind them, with unions being their only recourse really at their disposal — and we all know how utterly eviscerated and emasculated unions have become — automation has been merrily celebrated, by those who were unaffected by it, while those who did suffer from its consequences (depression, alcoholism, family collapse, and even suicide) did so quietly and unseen. It’s a whole different ball game when it comes to disturbing those who use only their brain to make a living.
Labor Displacement: A Major Societal and Economic Issue
Well, now that white-collar jobs are going to unceremoniously evaporate, watch how "labor displacement" is going to become a very important societal and economic issue indeed (on par, we will be told, with "the opioid epidemic" — another example of a long-standing catastrophe that suddenly became critical when the victims were no longer an uncared for minority). Expect legislation and policies to be swiftly introduced and enacted to help the displaced, very much like a trillion and some dollars were printed and distributed when COVID hit and the prospect of extreme disruption loomed large and real.
Legislation and Policies to Help Displaced Workers
So yes, I say "go AI" and disrupt society as much as possible so that we can at long last start making some of that stalled, necessary and much overdue progress (no scare quotes in this case) that focuses NOT on ensuring that, in the name of some voodoo, hocus-pocus trickle down economics, wealth continues to concentrate even more densely and at an increasingly narrowing pyramid tip, but on the well-being and the welfare of flesh and blood fellow human beings, including those grimy manual laborers.
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