AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
Last week, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk revealed he was officially entering the Artificial Intelligence (AI) race with a “based AI” platform. According to an exclusive from The Information, Musk is recruiting “artificial intelligence researchers” to develop a “based,” or conservative, alternative to the extremely popular chatbot ChaGPT, which has come under fire for having woke biases built in.
Musk joins a series of tech entrepreneurs and corporations who suddenly seem intent on riding this new wave of potentially disruptive technology.
Artificial Intelligence programs have existed in various forms for decades. Broadly speaking, AI is any software capable of “intelligent behavior.” Spam filters, facial recognition apps, and navigation systems are all forms of Artificial Intelligence. By one estimate, AI “resume scanners” review the majority of college resumes and job applications in America. AI voice assistant Siri has been standard on all iPhones since 2011.
Despite such ubiquitous use, however, in the past all commercially available Artificial Intelligence applications have been created using a narrow data set to solve a specific range of issues.
That all changed last November with the release of ChatGPT. The new program is an AI chatbot designed to interact with humans using a mind-bogglingly large data set—meaning it can “understand” queries and perform an astonishing range of tasks. Within five days of its release, ChatGPT had a million users, a record-breaking achievement. The previous record holder, Instagram, took two and a half months to reach this milestone.
ChatGPT can write newspaper articles, essays, resumes, and cover letters, edit documents, and even pass exams for law and business schools. Programmers are using the program to find errors in computer code. Recently, the digital publication BuzzFeed announced they would use Artificial Intelligence to create web content, potentially replacing dozens of employees. Within a day of this announcement, their stock price jumped 150%. The applications of ChatGPT technology appear limitless.
Yet those limitless possibilities have left many white-collar workers fearful that Artificial Intelligence may make their careers obsolete. For years, automation has caused massive disruption in the American labor market. However, it was always assumed that blue-collar workers would be the biggest victims of Artificial Intelligence.
Automation in the manufacturing sector, particularly the automotive industry, has already eliminated millions of American jobs, seeming to confirm this theory. That job loss was so alarming that many of young Americans were encouraged to attend colleges and universities to avoid being replaced.
Now, college-educated content creators, social media managers, and analysts are worrying their jobs will be obsolete within a few years. Ironically, many blue-collar professions like welders, plumbers, and electricians have escaped automation and are in high demand today.
But while ChatGPT may indeed pose a threat to some white-collar jobs, it is important to remember that mainstream media has a somewhat dubious record of overhyping disruptive technologies.
In recent decades, a litany of theoretical technologies were projected to upend the global economy. In 2009, Google first announced that self-driving vehicles would revolutionize the automobile market in America. More than 10 years later, the dream of fully autonomous vehicles still looks years away.
Cryptocurrencies were forecasted to replace centralized banking, yet ongoing volatility and high-profile corruption scandals and bankruptcies have left the industry in tatters.
More recently, Meta spent billions designing digital spaces that CEO Mark Zuckerberg hoped would replace both the workplace and physical social interactions. In 2022, this bet lost Zuckerberg $13.7 billion.
A Vice article noted an experiment in which several college professors could easily identify papers written by ChatGPT. Of one paper, a professor said, “The first indicator that I was dealing with AI was that, despite the syntactic coherence of the essay, it made no sense.” The Artificial Intelligence wrote a paper that was, at the surface level, clear but upon closer scrutiny had clearly inaccurate information and even made-up historical figures. Several developers are already creating software that can identify papers written by AI programs.
The notion that Artificial Intelligence will replace vast swaths of white-collar jobs in the immediate future seems unlikely. In a recent interview, NYU Professor Scott Galloway noted that the platform most likely to face disruption is the original disruptor itself: Google. “Search really hasn’t innovated in the last 20 years,” he remarked. When you posit a question to Google, it gives you a series of websites with potential answers and several paid ads. With ChatGPT, specific questions will yield specific answers, thus making Google’s model obsolete
As for other jobs, it is far more likely that lawyers, nurses, and screenwriters will find themselves working alongside Artificial Intelligence instead of being replaced by it entirely. ChatGPT could be a tremendous time saver for lawyers seeking precedent in previous decisions for an upcoming case. It could allow nurses to aggregate and diagnose patients. Creative writers could use the software for editing and pitching.
Nevertheless, Artificial Intelligence could prove disruptive in other, perhaps unexpected ways. For example, the advent of Google has led to the virtual extinction of traditional book-based research in libraries. Between 2009 and 2019, the number of times Americans visited a library in a given year dropped from 5.4 to 3.9 – and that’s likely only to use the free computers and internet access.
Another big question about the future of Artificial Intelligence technology like ChatGPT is how legislators will treat it. Lawmakers were largely ambivalent to the destruction of blue-collar jobs by the last wave of automation. Now that white-collar workers are experiencing the same fears, however, Congress and state legislators may take a different approach.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.