June 5, 2023 4:18 pm

Artificial intelligence (AI) is frequently cast as wreaking havoc and destroying jobs in reports about its increasing use by firms. The current coverage of telecom group BT’s plans to minimize its quantity of workers is a case in point.

On the other hand, even though it is AI that is featured in the headlines, in this case, it is the shift from copper to optical fibre in the BT network that is the actual story.

When I was a boy, workers for the GPO – the Basic Post Workplace, the forerunner of BT – have been normal prospects in my parents’ newsagent’s shop. They drove about in lorries erecting telegraph poles and repairing overhead phone wires. Instances – and technologies – have changed, and continue to transform. BT’s transition from copper to optical fibre is basically the most up-to-date technologies transition.

This move by BT has expected a massive, a single-off work, which is coming to an finish, along with the jobs it developed. And simply because fibre is extra dependable, there is significantly less require for a workforce of fitters in the field carrying out repairs.

This will transform the shape of BT as an operation: rather than an organisation of folks in vans, it will have a network designers and managers who, for the most aspect, can monitor gear in the field remotely.

This is taking place in other sectors as well. Rolls-Royce aircraft engines are monitored as they are flying from an workplace in Derby. The photocopier in your workplace – if you nevertheless have an workplace (or a photocopier for that matter) – is likely also monitored automatically by the supplier, with out a technician going anyplace close to it.

AI ‘co-piloting’

AI may perhaps contribute in aspect to the reduction in consumer service jobs at BT by getting in a position to speed up and assistance fairly routine tasks, such as screening calls or writing letters and emails to prospects.

But this normally does not take the type of a “robot” replacing a worker by taking more than their complete job. It is extra a case of AI technologies assisting human workers – acting as “co-pilots” – to be extra productive in particular tasks.

This ultimately reduces the general quantity of employees expected. And, in the BT story, AI is only pointed out in respect of a single-fifth of the jobs to be reduce, and even then, only as a single of the motives.

In my personal study amongst law and accountancy firms with my colleagues James Faulconbridge and Atif Sarwar, AI-primarily based technologies quite seldom basically do points faster and less expensive. Rather, they automate some tasks, but their analytical capabilities also deliver further insights into clients’ difficulties.

Greater tips, new jobs

A law firm may use a document evaluation package to search for challenge clauses in hundreds of leases, for instance. It can then use the general pattern of what is discovered as a basis for advising a client on managing their house portfolio improved.

Similarly, in auditing, AI technologies can automate the job of discovering suspicious transactions amongst thousands of entries, but also create insights that assist the client to comprehend their dangers and program their cashflow extra successfully.

In these approaches, the technologies can permit law and accountancy firms to offer you further advisory solutions to consumers. AI adoption also creates new forms
of jobs, such as engineers and information scientists in law firms.

Current advances in generative AI – which develop text or photos in response to prompts, with ChatGPT and GPT four getting the most clear examples – do present new possibilities and issues. There is no doubt that they exhibit some potentially new capabilities and even, for some, “sparks” of artificial common intelligence.

These technologies will influence operate and transform some types of jobs. But they are not the primary culprit in the BT case, and researchers and journalists alike require to preserve a cool head and examine the proof in each and every case.

We should really strive to act responsibly when innovating with AI, as with any other technologies. But also: beware the knee-jerk, sensationalist response to the use of AI in operate.

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