The A.I. Revolution Will Change Work. Nobody Agrees How.

Sarah Kessler in The New York Times: “In 2013, researchers at Oxford University published a startling number about the future of work: 47 percent of all United States jobs, they estimated, were “at risk” of automation “over some unspecified number of years, perhaps a decade or two.”

But a decade later, unemployment in the country is at record low levels. The tsunami of grim headlines back then — like “The Rich and Their Robots Are About to Make Half the World’s Jobs Disappear” — look wildly off the mark.

But the study’s authors say they didn’t actually mean to suggest doomsday was near. Instead, they were trying to describe what technology was capable of.

It was the first stab at what has become a long-running thought experiment, with think tanks, corporate research groups and economists publishing paper after paper to pinpoint how much work is “affected by” or “exposed to” technology.

In other words: If cost of the tools weren’t a factor, and the only goal was to automate as much human labor as possible, how much work could technology take over?

When the Oxford researchers, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, were conducting their study, IBM Watson, a question-answering system powered by artificial intelligence, had just shocked the world by winning “Jeopardy!” Test versions of autonomous vehicles were circling roads for the first time. Now, a new wave of studies follows the rise of tools that use generative A.I.

In March, Goldman Sachs estimated that the technology behind popular A.I. tools such as DALL-E and ChatGPT could automate the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs. Researchers at Open AI, the maker of those tools, and the University of Pennsylvania found that 80 percent of the U.S. work force could see an effect on at least 10 percent of their tasks.

“There’s tremendous uncertainty,” said David Autor, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has been studying technological change and the labor market for more than 20 years. “And people want to provide those answers.”

But what exactly does it mean to say that, for instance, the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs could be affected by A. I.?

It depends, Mr. Autor said. “Affected could mean made better, made worse, disappeared, doubled.”…(More)”.