Automation is “much better” than error-prone humans in many tasks, but it can’t yet compare to humans when it comes to work that requires in-person presence. In other words, don’t be afraid that AI will take your job…unless you work entirely remotely.
That’s the view of Nick Bloom, an economist at Stanford University and the brain behind the Remote Work Research Group Home Office Research said in a webinar earlier this month.
“If I was completely remote, you could replicate me with artificial intelligence,” Bloom said at a virtual panel hosted by software company Scoop. “You can be close to my image. You can be my voice. You may get a lot of discussion from ChatGPT.”
That’s the last thing remote workers want to hear, especially those who have been fighting back against employers’ growing return-to-office mandates, which have reached fever pitch as the Labor Day deadline looms .
Fortunately, despite the abundance of panic, Bloom doesn’t think most workers have much reason to worry. Potential AI victims are mainly those whose jobs are easily outsourced, he explained. “So: completely remote, relatively low-level things like call centers, data entry, payroll,” Bloom said. “In the next three to five years, these things are really at risk of being replaced by artificial intelligence.”
On the other hand, hybrid workers — whose jobs rely to some extent on in-person work — are almost certainly safe for now. Bloom, who teaches economics classes in Palo Alto classrooms during the school year, cites his own work as an example. “If I had to go in and teach people, the robot (that can do the same thing) is very heavy — about 2,000 pounds,” he said. “Even in the next 10 years, no robot will look like a human.”
Of course, even the state-of-the-art ChatGPT still lacks the element of human interaction. “It doesn’t have empathy,” Bloom said. So, for the hybrid workforce, AI and ChatGPT are more of a complement than a threat.
“If you go to the office two or three days a week,[artificial intelligence]might support you and increase your productivity,” Bloom said, adding that he’s seen his graduate students use it to help with coding and It was a huge success. “I think we’re going to see a lot of the impact on lower-level, fully remote workers.”
He went on to say that the risk is greater for workers in countries such as India, the Philippines, Mexico and South America, where there are many such jobs. “A friend of mine in the Indonesian call center industry has actually said that employment is declining because of chatbots,” he added.
Maybe this news will encourage diehard remote workers to give the office another chance. (After all, breaking even is hard enough without worrying about layoffs or outsourcing work.) But even with the looming threat of technological replacement, Bloom isn’t so sure. In fact, the office occupancy data was “underwhelming,” he said later in the webinar. “We’re not going into the office, but we’re not going out either. It’s totally level.”
The latest data from construction safety firm Kastle backs up Bloom. Office occupancy in the top 10 U.S. metro areas last week was just under half (47.2 percent occupancy), the survey found — a figure that has been largely unchanged in more than two years.
Whether the fourth annual Labor Day back-to-office push will be more successful than the last is anyone’s guess. (Especially with the new crown epidemic sweeping the United States.) But Bloom, an authority on remote work trends, has a fairly confident guess. “It feels like the past three years (the score) has been, working from home – three; returning to the office – zero,” he said. “This is not a race that the RTO will win.”