For several months now, Chat GPT and other similar tools have been making a splash. The abbreviation GPT comes from “Generative Pre-trained Transformer”. However, GPT is also an acronym for another important concept in technology: General Purpose Technology. It is quite commonly accepted that AI-based solutions, including those like GPT Chat, represent the next generation of general purpose technologies. While the name may seem inconspicuous, it actually conceals enormous power, the power to transform societies and economies. To illustrate this, one only needs to recall other examples of general purpose technologies: electrification or computerization. The immense impact of such technologies stems from the fact that they have universal application – in most sectors of the economy – and with respect to many different job positions. This primal force is reinforced by the fact that these technologies lead to the generation of complementary innovations, resulting in vast areas of human activity undergoing transformation.
What is characteristic of general purpose technologies is also the fact of increasingly shorter adaptation times. Considering the nature of AI-based solutions – very low, often close to zero, costs of acquiring additional users – one can expect that the adaptation of such solutions will proceed at a record pace. Especially now, when – it seems – a sort of critical mass necessary to create a snowball effect has been reached, and the opportunity to use AI-based solutions has just “reached the mainstream”.
Like any general purpose technology, this one related to artificial intelligence will not be without influence on our functioning. There is no shortage of studies focusing on its impact on the job market. What seems new for AI-based solutions – compared to earlier general purpose technologies – is their ability to automate non-routine tasks that require relatively high qualifications. Professions saturated with such tasks seemed until recently to be safe havens, but many indications suggest that this will all be changing.
However, the comforting fact is that all analyses of the impact of AI-based solutions on the labor market refer to professions that we know, that exist today. Meanwhile, history shows that the spread of general purpose technologies is accompanied by an increase in demand for knowledge and competence that did not exist before. The result is the creation of many new professions and jobs.
The latter of course does not mean that the socio-economic transformation related to the labor market will not pose challenges. They will be associated, for example, with the fact that there will be winners and losers of this process at all levels: countries, companies and individuals. Therefore, it is so important to quickly realize the consequences of the technological revolution we are witnessing. First, it significantly accelerates the process of eroding the value of employees’ knowledge/skills and raises the role of lifelong learning. Second, it necessitates ceasing to compete with “machines” and focusing human efforts on those areas that are inaccessible to machines (e.g., activities based on imagination/creativity and feelings/empathy). Thirdly, it translates into increased job rotation, which is a derivative of changing company needs for specific knowledge and skills, but also a large rotation of the companies themselves (the life cycle of an average company will be shortened, in place of shrinking/failing new, rapidly growing entities will appear). Fourth, it generates bottom-up pressure for flexible forms of employment, facilitating employers to adapt the skills in the company to current needs, and in turn enabling employees to maximize the use of their skills, offering them simultaneously to 2-3 employers. Fifth, it translates into a gradual departure from the model of continuous work (from school/university until retirement age) to the model of “work – break – work, etc”. This break time will provide an opportunity to supplement skills or deal with matters other than work.
However, the impact of AI-based solutions goes well beyond the labor market. It will pose challenges in areas such as: i) ethics, ii) income inequality, iii) market power concentration in the hands of global giants, iv) privacy issues (data protection, surveillance), v) cyber security, vi) increasing adverse social phenomena (e.g. spread of hate speech).
We also must not forget that the revolution associated with the development of artificial intelligence overlays other changes taking place in the world, including climate change, demographic processes, green transformation, reshuffles and increasing geo-political tensions. It is important that we want to use AI-based solutions to solve the problems of the global community, and not, for example, as a sophisticated tool for conducting wars and deepening divisions.
For this to happen, we need to learn to “look broader”, to be able to step out of the midst of what’s happening and evaluate the situation based on a comprehensive picture, as if from above. I recently wrote about how much this changes the perception of reality in “What Do Aliens Think About Us?“. From a “cosmic” perspective, we are all passengers of one ship, called Earth, which is very easy to steer into rocks today.
Published: Parkiet, 13.05.2023