AI Took My Job

Two new studies suggest leaders are tapping into artificial intelligence to replace jobs—not enhance them. Is that the best strategy?

It’s in the headlines almost daily. Yes, companies say, artificial intelligence is fast becoming a critical competitive tool. No, it won’t replace people; it will just enhance the role they already perform.

Or maybe not. According to a new survey, roughly 4,000 of the more than 80,000 job cuts last month were due to AI. This follows a different survey in which 48% of US firms said that the much-hyped ChatGPT tool had replaced some workers since its debut just last November. Almost all of the firms said the move had saved them money.

Experts long ago predicted that AI would replace many human roles, but the pace of its adoption and its elimination of jobs is cause for alarm, says Chris Cantarella, global sector leader for the Software practice at Korn Ferry. “Layoffs are taking place because of the downturn in the economy,” Cantarella says. “The rise of AI is just making leaders feel more emboldened.”

How emboldened at this stage is hard to say, experts agree. Despite those 4,000 job losses, for example, AI was only the month’s seventh-largest reason for layoffs, with the economy/market conditions the largest factor. And all of the AI-job cuts came from the tech sector, where companies have laid off tens of thousands of employees in an effort to rightsize after the growth surge caused by the pandemic.

Still, the toll of AI-related layoffs aligns with anecdotal evidence, industry consultants say, as well as with recent news stories featuring people who claim to have lost their jobs due to ChatGPT. The results also provide further fuel for the debate over whether companies are looking to use generative AI to replace jobs or enhance them.

For their part, leaders have been sending mixed messages. Some CEOs have publicly proclaimed they won’t lay off anyone due to AI, and even banned its use; others have paused hiring or cut staff specifically because of AI. Where a company ultimately ends up on that spectrum depends on “whether they view AI as a way to reduce costs or improve innovation,” says Korn Ferry associate client partner Andy Holmes.

With the economy expected to get worse before it gets better, experts worry that leaders will rush to deploy AI to goose short-term profitability at the expense of long-term business prospects. In one of the surveys, executives said they were moving forward with ChatGPT despite knowing it was producing some errors. “AI is not one-size-fits-all,” says Paul Fogel, sector leader for professional search and software at Korn Ferry. “You don’t just roll it out and call it a day.”

In fact, Fogel says, that approach could decrease productivity and increase costs. Instead, he advises leaders to think in terms of “small rollouts” to evaluate where, how, and who works best with AI. Eventually, he says, training, educating, and upskilling workers to use AI will create enough jobs to offset those lost. Right now, he says, “the job losses resulting from AI are because of an evolution in skills needed and a change in people being hired.”


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