By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS. 8 September 2023 (IDN) — The growing new global phenomenon—Artificial Intelligence (AI)—has sparked both positive and negative reactions, including a perceived threat that it will eventually replace humans in most workplaces.
But a new study, Generative AI and Jobs: A global analysis of potential effects on job quantity and quality, points out that most jobs and industries are only partly exposed to automation and are more likely to be complemented rather than substituted by the latest wave of Generative AI, such as ChatGPT.
The study, released on August 21 by the Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO), says the greatest impact of this technology is likely to be “not job destruction but rather the potential changes to the quality of jobs, notably work intensity, and autonomy”.
Clerical work had the most significant technological exposure, with nearly a quarter of tasks considered highly exposed and more than half of tasks having medium-level exposure.
In other occupational groups—including managers, professionals, and technicians—only a tiny share of tasks were highly exposed, while about a quarter had medium exposure levels.
The study, which is global in scope, documents notable differences in the effects on countries at different levels of development linked to current economic structures and existing technological gaps.
Among its findings: about 5.5 per cent of total employment in high-income countries is potentially exposed to the automating effects of the technology, whereas in low-income countries, the risk of automation concerns only some 0.4 per cent of employment.
On the other hand, the potential for augmentation is nearly equal across countries, suggesting that with the right policies in place, this new wave of technological transformation could offer important benefits for developing countries, according to the study.
Robert Whitfield, Chair of the Transnational Working Group on AI of the World Federalist Movement / Institute for Global Policy, told IDN it a serious study, indicating a shift in jobs under threat from repetitive, low-skilled jobs to knowledge jobs.
“Whilst it might appear to be good news for developing countries, the study assumes that the tasks being assessed would be executed in high-income countries—and therefore with the economic gap between developed and developing countries widening,” said Whitfield, who is also Chair of the One World Trust.
The study also points out that the potential effects of Generative AI are likely to differ significantly for men and women, with more than twice the share of female employment potentially affected by automation.
This is due to women’s over-representation in clerical work, especially in high and middle-income countries. Since clerical jobs have traditionally been an important source of female employment as countries develop economically, one result of Generative AI could be that certain clerical jobs may never emerge in lower-income countries.
The study concludes that the socioeconomic impacts of Generative AI will largely depend on how its diffusion is managed, and it argues the need to design policies that support an orderly, fair, and consultative transition.
“Workers’ voice, skills training, and adequate social protection will be key to managing the transition. Otherwise, there is a risk that only a few well-prepared countries and market participants will benefit from the new technology.
The authors also note that the “outcomes of the technological transition are not pre-determined. It is humans behind the decision to incorporate such technologies, and humans need to guide the transition process”.
Meanwhile, the United Nations is developing “a Code of Conduct for Information Integrity on Digital Platforms”—ahead of the UN Summit of the Future scheduled to take place in September 2024.
“The Code of Conduct will be a set of principles that we hope governments, digital platforms and other stakeholders will implement voluntarily,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres told reporters on June 12.
The proposals in this policy brief, in preparation for the Code, include:
– A commitment by Governments, tech companies and other stakeholders to refrain from using, supporting, or amplifying disinformation and hate speech for any purpose.
– A pledge by Governments to guarantee a free, viable, independent, and plural media landscape with strong protections for journalists.
– The consistent application of policies and resources by digital platforms worldwide to eliminate double standards that allow hate speech and disinformation to flourish in some languages and countries while they are prevented more effectively in others.
– And agreed protocols for a rapid response by governments and digital platforms when the stakes are highest—in times of conflict and high social tensions.
– Plus, a commitment from digital platforms to ensure all products account for safety, privacy, and transparency.
Citing a report from the Center for AI Safety, the New York Times reported on May 31 that a group of over 350 AI industry leaders warned that artificial intelligence poses a growing new danger to humanity and should be considered a “societal risk on a par with pandemics and nuclear wars”.
“We must take those warnings seriously. Our proposed Global Digital Compact, New Agenda for Peace, and Accord on the global governance of AI will offer multilateral solutions based on human rights,” Guterres said.
“But the advent of generative AI must not distract us from the damage digital technology already does to our world. The proliferation of hate and lies in the digital space is causing grave global harm—now. It is fueling conflict, death, and destruction—now. It is threatening democracy and human rights—now. It is undermining public health and climate action—now,” he warned.
Meanwhile, the Paris-based UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) calls on governments to implement appropriate regulations and teacher training to ensure a human-centered approach to using Generative AI in education.
To this end, the agency has published its first global Guidance on Generative AI in Education and Research, designed to address the disruptions caused by Generative AI technologies.
UNESCO said that generative AI can be an opportunity for human development but can also cause harm and prejudice. It adds that it cannot be integrated into education without public engagement and the necessary safeguards and regulations from governments. [IDN-InDepthNews]
Image: ©nuttapong punna. Credit: ILO
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