AI and the Workplace: Change Will Happen, Just Not the Way Some Think

May 15, 2024

dinosaur30a_thumbThis essay is the work of a dinobaby. Unlike some folks, no smart software improved my native ineptness.

I read “AI and the Workplace.” The essay contains observations related to smart software in the workplace. The idea is that employees who are savvy will experiment and try to use the technology within today’s work framework. I think that will happen just as the essay suggests. However, I think there is a larger, more significant impact that is easy to miss. Looking at today’s workplace is missing a more significant impact. Employees either [a] want to keep their job, [b] gain new skills and get a better job, or [c] quit to vegetate or become an entrepreneur. I understand.

The data in the report make clear that some employees are what I call change flexible; that is, these motivated individuals differentiate from others at work by learning and experimenting. Note that more than half the people in the “we don’t use AI” categories want to use AI.


These data come from the cited article and an outfit called Asana.

The other data in the report. Some employees get a productivity boost; others just chug along, occasionally getting some benefit from AI. The future, therefore, requires learning, double checking outputs, and accepting that it is early days for smart software. This makes sense; however, it misses where the big change will come.

In my view, the major shift will appear in companies founded now that AI is more widely available. These organizations will be crafted to make optimal use of smart software from the day the new idea takes shape. A new news organization might look like Grok News (the Elon Musk project) or the much reviled AdVon. But even these outfits are anchored in the past. Grok News just substitutes smart software (which hopefully will not kill its users) for old work processes and outputs. AdVon was a “rip and replace” tool for Sports Illustrated. That did not go particularly well in my opinion.

The big job impact will be on new organizational set ups with AI baked in. The types of people working at these organizations will not be from the lower 98 percent of the work force pool. I think the majority of employees who once expected to work in information processing or knowledge work will be like a 58 year old brand manager at a vape company. Job offers will not be easy to get and new companies might opt for smart software and search engine optimization marketing. How many workers will that require? Maybe zero. Someone on will do the job for a couple of hundred dollars a month.

In my view, new companies won’t need workers who are not in the top tier of some high value expertise. Who needs a consulting team when one bright person with knowledge of orchestrating smart software is able to do the work of a marketing department, a product design unit, and a strategic planning unit? In fact, there may not be any “employees” in the sense of workers at a warehouse or a consulting firm like Deloitte.

Several observations are warranted:

  1. Predicting downstream impacts of a technology unfamiliar to a great many people is tricky and sometimes impossible. Who knew social media would spawn a renaissance in getting tattooed?
  2. Visualizing how an AI-centric start up is assembled is a challenge? I submit it won’t look like an insurance company today. What’s a Tesla repair station look like? The answer, “Not much.”
  3. Figuring out how to be one of the elite who gets a job means being perceived as “smart.” Unlike Alina Habba, I know that I cannot fake “smart.” How many people will work hard to maximize the return on their intelligence? The answer, in my experience, is, “Not too many, dinobaby.”

Looking at the future from within the framework of today’s datasphere distorts how one perceives impact. I don’t know what the future looks like, but it will have some quite different configurations than the companies today have. The future will arrive slowly and then it becomes the foundation of a further evolution. What’s the grandson of tomorrow’s AI firm look like? Beauty will be in the eye of the beholder.

Net net: Where will the never-to-be-employed find something meaningful to do?

Stephen E Arnold, May 15, 2024


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