Scared of AI? Here’s an optimistic take.
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The Insightful Leader Logo The Insightful Leader Sent to subscribers on January 31, 2024
Scared of AI? Here’s an optimistic take.

Quick: guess how many of the 270 jobs listed in the 1950 census have since been eliminated by automation. Are you thinking a quarter? A third?

“Just one,” says Kellogg’s Hatim Rahman, an assistant professor of management and organizations. “And in case you are wondering, that job was an elevator operator.”

It’s a statistic that he wants us to keep in mind as we ponder the future of work—and specifically, the “fear that AI is going to suddenly lead to mass unemployment.” Rahman spoke about how AI will affect our careers, and our society, on a recent The Insightful Leader Live webinar. Today, we’ll share some highlights from that discussion.

Change happens more slowly than we think

If worries about AI decimating the labor force and taking away your livelihood have been keeping you up at night, Rahman has some words of reassurance: “Decades of research shows that fear is unfounded.”

As much as it feels like technology is advancing so rapidly that we can barely keep up, it takes much longer for those advances to fully embed themselves in society. This will be true of AI, too. “It’s going to take a long time for it to penetrate an industry, especially in ways that will affect your career,” says Rahman.

This may be cold comfort to individual illustrators, translators, and journalists who have already lost some work to generative AI. But zoom out a bit, and it’s clear that while these professions are the first to be affected by the technology, they are nowhere near obsolete. Instead, they are changing, as AI is gradually incorporated into various work streams and new infrastructure emerges to support it. “The more complex the technology, the more technical, human, and monetary resources are needed to develop, integrate, and maintain [the] technology,” says Rahman.

How we use AI is up to us

By now you’ve surely heard the argument that AI is neither good nor bad, but simply a tool. Much will depend, then, upon how we choose to deploy it. And, Rahman says, there is time for us to make this choice collectively and deliberately.

We can choose to use AI to replace as many workers as possible—or we can instead choose to use AI to bolster talent and identify it in underrecognized places. We can choose to let machines make the bulk of the decisions around our healthcare, education, and defense—or we can choose to keep humans at the helm, ensuring that human values and priorities rule the day.

And it’s not pollyannaish to think we’ll actually have a choice. There are already areas where we’ve opted to prioritize human involvement. Take aviation. Despite estimates that more than 90 percent of a pilot’s responsibilities can be automated, our society has still decided to put well-trained pilots, capable of flying manually, in the cockpit in case things go awry.

Automation has worked out pretty well for pilots, says Rahman. “In fact, in aggregate, the number of pilots and their pay has increased for years.”

To learn more about how AI will reshape our world, you can read more in Kellogg Insight.

Talking Point

To sell an asset for the highest price, you generally want to solicit offers from as many buyers as possible. The same goes for purchasing: the more potential sellers you approach, the better the deal you’ll probably get. The benefits of competition are, after all, a cornerstone of economics. But in over-the-counter (OTC) markets—or networks for trading securities not listed on formalized exchanges—investors have historically sought few counterparties, something researchers have struggled to explain. A new study finds that OTC investors are motivated by concerns about front-running—that is, when counterparties know what move an investor plans to make, they can take steps to raise or lower the price of that asset. Contacting few counterparties, the research shows, protects against this problem.

“How do we let people go home from work at a reasonable time, disconnect at a reasonable time, not burden them with emails on the weekends, on vacations, after hours?”

— Professor of management and organizations Adam Waytz, on Marketplace, on the plight of middle managers and the importance of letting them unplug.

See you next week!

Susie Allen, senior research editor
Kellogg Insight