Learning from past disruptions key to working with AI

Cosmos Magazine


Cosmos is a quarterly science magazine. We aim to inspire curiosity in ‘The Science of Everything’ and make the world of science accessible to everyone.

By Cosmos

Artificial intelligence and machine learning will present opportunities for workplaces to develop more fulfilling future work, but people in those jobs will need cross-discipline skills according to future work researchers.

Panellists at September’s Cosmos Science City event discussed jobs of the future amid rapid technological change.

Dr Ruchi Sinha, an organisational psychologist at the University of South Australia, expects the transformative impact of AI in the workplace to challenge assumptions about the value of humans as workers.

But rather than making workers obsolete, she predicts AI will shift humans more towards cross-disciplinary roles with the ability to connect different knowledge areas, rather than specialising in narrow informational specialties.

“I see education for jobs of the future to make you far more well-read across disciplines, rather than within a single discipline,” Sinha says. Rather than AI replacing people entirely, she expects workforces to be challenged by humans who can adapt to technological change – like that witnessed with the advent of the internet and social media – outpacing people and businesses that don’t.

“I don’t think technology is going to take jobs away from humans. I think humans who use technology are going to take jobs away from other humans,” she says.

The viewpoint was echoed by other panel members, including Dr Charlie Hargroves, a senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide Business School’s Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation and Innovation Centre, who pointed to the productivity advantages being embraced through large language models like Chat GPT.

“99% of businesses aren’t [using Chat GPT], but 1% that are, are getting a competitive advantage,” Hargroves says. “And it’s not particularly difficult to start using.”

When Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and Meta (of Facebook and Instagram) disrupted advertising in the 2010s, businesses that jumped to digital marketing embraced the ability – then unregulated – to use massive user datasets available through these platforms and target audiences with far more precision than a billboard or TV ad. Today, rather than ‘digital marketing’ being considered a separate field, marketers are skilled across traditional and digital.

Digital presented new platforms for businesses to operate in. With AI, though – particularly large language models that emulate human intelligence – Sinha sees these as fundamentally challenging what had been assumed to be the inherent value of humans as workers: task automation, information collection and processing, and creativity.

“That is why I think it’s different than other [disruptions]. Others all aided us, they disrupted economies, they disrupted structures, they did not disrupt a sense of being human,” she says.

While change to the nature of work in an AI age won’t happen overnight, Sinha says those who adapt to being knowledge connectors – applying the grunt work of AI learning to the real work – will benefit. She also sees an important role for organisations to create constructive and fulfilling work for people.

“I think the way organisations can design jobs of the future is [to] actually create roles that give meaning to individuals at work, where they are engaging in culture building, they are creating the cohesion in a group.

“When you get time taken away from drudgery, if organisations can make that time investment to upskilling and development, it’s [a] perfect nexus: your own employees are happy, they have a sense of meaning your upskilling them, and they will serve you to be productive in the future. For me, that’s where the connection [between humans and technology] is.”

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