Automation is “significantly better” than unsuccessful humans when it comes to many tasks – but it can’t come close to comparison when a job requires a physical presence. In other words, don’t be afraid of AI taking your job away…unless you work completely remotely.
That’s what Nick Bloom, a Stanford economist and head of the remote working research group WFH Research, said in a webinar earlier this month.
“If I were completely remote, you could replicate me with AI,” Bloom said on the virtual panel, which was hosted by software firm Scoop. “You can get close to my image. You can hear my voice. You can probably get most of the buzz from ChatGPT.”
It’s the last thing far-flung employees want to hear, especially those pushing back against their employers’ mounting orders to return to the office, which are reaching a peak as the Labor Day deadline approaches.
Fortunately, despite spreading ample fear, Bloom doesn’t anticipate that most workers have any reason to worry. He pointed out that the key workers who would be potential AI victims are those with easily outsource-able jobs. “So, completely remote, relatively low-level things like call centers, data entry, payroll,” Bloom said. “This stuff is at real risk of being replaced by AI in the next three to five years.”
On the other hand, hybrid workers — those whose jobs, to some extent, depend on personal work — are almost certainly safe for now. Bloom, who teaches economics courses in Palo Alto’s classrooms during the school year, used his job as an example. “If I want to go in and teach people, robots [that could do the same] They’re insanely bulky—like, 2,000 pounds,” he said. “There’s no way any robot will even look like a human within the next 10 years.”
Naturally, there is also the interpersonal human element that is still lacking in even the most advanced ChatGPT. “It doesn’t have empathy,” Bloom said. As a result, for hybrid workers, AI and ChatGPT may be more of a complement than a threat.
“If you’re coming to the office two or three days a week, [A.I.] Will probably support you and make you more productive,” Bloom said, adding that he’s seen his graduate students use it for coding assistance with great success. “I think we’re going to see a lot of impact [among] Low-level, completely remote workers.
He further said the risk is higher for workers in countries such as India, the Philippines and Mexico, as well as in South America, where many such jobs are based. “A friend of mine in the call center industry in Indonesia [and in] India has actually already said that employment is going down because of chatbots,” he said.
Perhaps this news will encourage recalcitrant remote workers to give the office another go. (After all, it’s hard enough to make a living without worrying about layoffs or outsourced work.) But even with the looming threat of technological replacement, Bloom isn’t so sure. Indeed, office occupancy data is “flat as a pancake,” he said later in the webinar. “We are not going to the office, but we are not going out either. It’s completely level.”
The latest data from building security firm Castel supports the bloom. It found that offices in the top 10 US metro areas were less than half full last week (with 47.2% occupancy) – a number that has remained virtually unchanged for two years.
It’s anyone’s guess whether the fourth annual Labor Day Return to Office will be more successful than the last time. (Especially with the new Covid wave sweeping the US) But Bloom, an expert on remote working trends, has a pretty reassuring forecast. “It feels like [score of the] The last three years have been work-from-home-three; Return to office – zero,” he said. “This is not a match that RTO is winning.”