- GenAI is still in early days, so policymakers, business leaders and even individual consumers have opportunities to shape its impact on our world through regulation, responsible use and innovation.
- However, AI has already changed the way we work, and will continue to do so as the technology evolves and becomes mature.
- Think of GenAI tools like new productivity software, rather than competitors for your job. Many experts say that these tools will be more likely to optimize efficiency and free up humans to do what they do best.
- The Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights is one document intended to guide policymakers and companies in responsible deployment of AI. It has guidance for both corporate and consumer-facing GenAI.
GenAI is already transforming the workplace – and the workforce. While AI has gradually been incorporated into everything from search to email drafting, many of us are wondering how much artificial intelligence will change the work we do and how we do it.
AI is a given for our future, but neither positive nor negative impacts are a foregone conclusion. We still have choices to make about the influence and implementation of AI. That’s one takeaway from a recent Washington Post Live on AI and the future of work.
The online forum featured The Center for American Progress’ Dr. Alondra Nelson, Khan Academy CEO Sal Khan and Pearson President of Workforce Skills Michael Howells, as well as a message from event sponsor Ernst & Young’s Beatriz Sanz Sáiz.
Shaping, Not Succumbing to AI’s Uncertainties
Nelson, former acting director at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, kicked off the conversation, discussing the role of policy and regulation in shaping tomorrow’s work.
‟[T]here’s nothing inevitable here,” Nelson said. [W]e have, in this early moment, an opportunity to really create the potential that many of us imagine that AI systems and tools can have in American society and global society.
She highlighted that recent reports from companies such as Goldman Sachs seem quite bullish on the impact of AI, they are light on details and even lighter on the certainty of the details they choose to predict.
However, Nelson chose to spin that uncertainty as a potential positive, meaning that policymakers and stakeholders still have the ability to shape our future, rather succumb to an inevitable AI-driven course.
‟[W]e have an opportunity really to create levers and systems and ways of thinking about this work [amid] a moment of uncertainty about the tools and a moment in which these tools and systems are being introduced as well,” Nelson told moderator Danielle Abril.
Given the right application of those hypothetical ‟levers,” Nelson posits that AI may create entirely new kinds of careers, as well as drive up wages (via increased productivity) or increase safety for existing roles.
‟I think a lot of our conversation around work, labor, you know, and AI is just about the disruption and the sort of sense that it has to happen and it’s going to happen all around us, and that there’s nothing that we can do about it,” Nelson said. ‟But smart governance, smart regulation can, you know, lean into sort of policies and programs and initiatives that actually help to mitigate that disruption.”
Listen to the full WP Live conversation, featuring Center for American Progress’ Alondra Nelson, Khan Academy’s Sal Khan and Pearson’s Michael Howells.
In light of those hopes, Nelson also referenced the Biden administration’s Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights as one step that policymakers have taken toward a future in which AI is beneficial for human workers. In her roles as Office of Science and Technology Policy acting director and principal deputy director for science and society, Nelson helped shape this document.
Nelson explained, ‟It’s got five principles: that AI systems should be safe and effective; that there should be data privacy; that you should be notified when systems are being used; that you should have alternative options and should be able to opt out of the use of the systems; and that there should be protection against forms of discrimination, gender discrimination, age discrimination, accessibility discrimination, et cetera, through the use of algorithms and systems.”
Additionally, Nelson noted, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Department of Justice have all released guidance for how existing rules apply to questions raised by artificial intelligence. ‟It is not the case… that AI is not regulated,” she said.
All that being said, Nelson is not without concerns of her own in this space. She worries ‟we don’t have all of the voices and stakeholders at the table that we need to have, and so this can’t be a conversation for only people in the technology sector or only in the business sector” in terms of shaping policy and regulations.
Should Companies Be More Concerned Than Individual Workers?
Next, attendees heard a message from E&Y’s Beatriz Sanz Sáiz, who said, ‟[The nature of GenAI is transformational. It will not only improve productivity or reduce operating costs and optimize back-office processes, but it will transform the way we work.” Specifically, she says AI in the workforce means ‟we will see a simplification and standardization to the limit.”
In fact, Sanz Sáiz predicted, ‟AI will not replace humans, but, actually, companies that embed AI at the core will displace the ones that don’t.”
A near-term example of at-work, Sanz Sáiz posited, might be that ‟AI will facilitate the development of more cross-functional skills by providing accessible and interactive learning resources, and this will allow apprenticeships and new employees to develop more effective skills and explore various roles and domains.”
But, she said, ‟New technical standards are needed for governments, enterprises and citizens to confidently and safely adopt this new form of intelligence. So we are already working with policymakers, industry experts, and software developers to revisit the ethical frameworks as we move into a world that is probabilistic, but to be honest, there is still a lot of work to be done.‟
Start Learning — Yesterday
The final portion of the event was a dual interview, featuring Khan and Howells.
As far as Sal Khan is concerned, the question isn’t so much how or when AI will change the way we work. It’s when will we realize that it is and begin to leverage it?
‟[I]f you’re not already using these tools in some way, shape, or form, you’re probably not doing your work optimally anymore,” Khan said. ‟These can really streamline a lot of tasks, and the tools that leverage generative AI are only going to get better and better.”
But neither Khan nor Howells expect GenAI to take over entire roles any time soon. But those who don’t adopt it do run the risk of falling behind.
Howells explained, ‟[W]e think about this very much as really a question of how to utilize AI tools in order to empower individuals to make informed choices, how to personalize learning experiences, how to figure out what are the right opportunities for you as you progress through your career.”
If that still sounds daunting, Khan said those who are experimenting with generative AI tools at this stage in the game, ‟maybe already using it for certain tasks, they’re already way ahead of the curve, and I think they’re going to be in good shape.”
Khan said, ‟[H]opefully, this revolution is actually going to require even less, I would say, bespoke training. It’s just about being out there, using whatever tools are out there, and being familiar with them.”
Howells explained the data actually indicates that our previous shifts to automation have actually inadvertently prepared many for the changes AI is likely to bring.
‟[T]here is huge opportunity in this to really understand and invest in the value that people can bring in work,” Howells said.
He explained, ‟[T]hose new technologies that are coming on stream now are so accessible to [users], without necessarily a particularly high level of technical competence, that they can augment work in a way that liberates people to really make the biggest contribution they can through what people can uniquely do.”