In the mid-1980s, a cult classic action movie, The Terminator, came out, depicting a future where Artificial Intelligence (AI) brings mankind to the brink of destruction, but as with most cheesy Hollywood stories, the good guys (us the humans) manage to turn things around and defeat the bad guys (the robots).
Unfortunately, life does not always play out like in the movies. Where yes, we are heading towards an AI era, much as depicted in The Terminator, but instead of a war on the battlefield, our war with AI appears to be looming in the job markets. In our case, we can’t expect a miraculous win to appear for us out of the blue, as though our narrative was written by a room of Hollywood writers. Instead, we need to sit down, take stock of the situation at hand, and figure out our path forward before things spiral out of control.
In The Terminator movie, our own creations - robots -turn on us and begin wiping out humanity in a bloody war. This frighteningly seems to be a more likely future for us in the workplace, with the arrival and popularisation of technologies like Chat GPT, AI art, and robots. They are faster than us, they do not get tired or sick, and they don’t need a monthly income.
There are a lot of reasons why machines make for better employees, and we are already seeing them affect the job market. From digital kiosks at our favourite fast food places to innovations we would have never expected, such as a robot - invented and patented by a lash studio based in Oakland, California, Luum. The robot applies eyelashes, ordinarily an eyelash technician would manually do.
These days, it is becoming quite apparent to us that there is almost nothing AI and machines can’t do. They are working their way into any and every aspect of our lives.
Eccentric tech enthusiast Elon Musk himself has opted to make the glorified blue tick of verification on Twitter a product you have to pay for through a monthly subscription. This will be a means to prove you are actually human and not an AI bot trying to manipulate news and current affairs.
Many may see this move as a well-warranted precaution, as AI hangs exceedingly close to mimicking people, whether it’s deep-faking videos or holding high-level conversations that are indistinguishable from human dialogue, such as is the case with chat GPT.
So it is not far-fetched to fear that one day an AI counterpart could replace you at work, regardless of your field or experience.
Advances in AI have been so fast and so powerful that a large number of tech experts have recently put out an open letter - with signatures from leaders in the field such as Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, and Elon Musk as well. The open letter makes a call for AI labs to pause training the technology for six months while steps are put in place to keep AI from growing out of control.
The letter opens with the statement, “AI systems with human-competitive intelligence can pose profound risks to society and humanity, as shown by extensive research and acknowledged by top AI labs.” This comes just a few weeks after the release of Chat GPT 4, whose exponential growth in capability has stirred up feelings of concern in many experts.
Originally having been released just last year at the end of November and attracting over a million users in a short amount of time, it is easy to see why experts would call for the pause of this technology. A main fear with AI is if left unchecked, could reach the potential of automating all of our jobs within months or a few years unless positioned properly to work with us instead of replacing us.
Much like when computers first arrived, new technologies often speed up work and cause some roles to be irrelevant. They can also create new jobs that had not existed before, like how we have computer programmers and data scientists now. As much as AI poses a threat to our jobs, it could also be an opportunity for new ones, but how this all plays out will depend on how we handle it.
So is AI coming for our jobs? In short, yes, because AI can do almost anything we can do, and it can do it far better at times too, but does this spell the end of the world for us? No, not necessarily, as the arrival of AI could bring new jobs with it, seeing as the arrival of computers was very similar.
Now that we have opened Pandora’s box, there is no turning back. We are dealing with a technology more advanced than anything we have ever seen before, so the outcome looks quite uncertain. Therefore, this is a very critical time for us to proceed with caution.
Lindelani Mnisi is a 2019 Activator (ACTIVATE! Change Drivers) and an artist (music, writing, and drawing).