Many worry that AI will have a significant impact on jobs across the economy. From call center workers to business analysts, nobody can be certain that his or her job won’t be displaced by intelligent systems. While this may be worrisome from an individual perspective, it could also provoke a sigh of relief; replacing human workers with machines could mean that we finally see some productivity increases after decades of computerization and digitalization.
However, despite the apparent advancements in information technology, there has been a lack of corresponding increases in productivity. Various explanations for this productivity paradox exist; it may take more time for productivity effects to become visible (as businesses need time to fully implement digital solutions), it could be a measuring problem (traditional statistics miss the value generated by digital technology), or perhaps digitalization has primarily created new practices that don’t truly add value (e.g., elaborate PowerPoint slides, superfluous emails).
For generative AI, the question is whether it will reduce our workload and lead to time savings (and hence productivity increases). Alternatively, whether the lower costs to produce text, images, data analyses, and other outputs that AI’s can deliver will inspire new nonsensical practices, such as even more intricate slides or personalized services that barely add value. Moreover, if AI does indeed save us time, will it do so in the sectors where it is needed most?
Chances are that AI will primarily replace workers who are of minimal economic and societal value. These so-called 'bullshit jobs' often entail ‘information work’, which is precisely what AI excels at. By contrast, substituting people in sectors that hold high societal value and currently struggle with labor supplies will be far more difficult. Jobs in healthcare, education, and construction typically involve combinations of cognitive and physical tasks, which are much more challenging to automate.
These likely outcomes suggest that we could witness a growing number of unemployed ‘information workers’, while other sectors will continue to struggle to find skilled workers. From a societal perspective, this raises the question of whether and how we can transition people out of their current 'bullshit jobs' and into sectors that are of crucial importance to society and the economy.