Pichai: A.I. will spur ‘labor market disruptions’
Artificial intelligence tools have captured the public imagination, and with companies like Microsoft and Google racing to upgrade their tech, it could impact virtually every industry.
Even Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, who has been bullish about what the “profound” technology means for the future, believes that it will send shockwaves through the working world.
“I think it’ll touch everything we do,” Pichai said of A.I. in an interview with The Verge’s Nilay Patel published Friday. “I do think there are big societal labor market disruptions that will happen.”
But the tech chief thinks that A.I. could also make some jobs better, if it’s done right. He used the example of the legal profession, which some believe will be the most disrupted by A.I., and said that even with technological developments, the need for some skills and services will not be eliminated altogether.
“So, A.I. will make the profession better in certain ways, might have some unintended consequences, but I’m willing to almost bet 10 years from now, maybe there are more lawyers.”
While A.I.-powered products are still in their early stages, companies are already rolling out tools for businesses to use the technology. Meta, besides pouring money into their own A.I. products, also recently announced an A.I. feature for its advertisers to use. And major law firms are already using A.I. to draft documents and look over contracts.
Google did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for further comment.
The ‘platform shift’
Pichai says that an A.I. “platform shift” is underway, and compared job anxieties now to those that went along with the dawn of the personal computer, the internet and mobile phones.
“Twenty years ago, when people exactly predicted what tech automation would do, there were very specific pronouncements of entire job categories which would go away. That hasn’t fully played out,” Pichai said.
Pichai isn’t the only tech CEO who thinks A.I. will have a major impact on the labor force. IBM’s CEO Arvind Krishna said earlier this week that A.I. could do “30% to 50%” of the repetitive office work. He added that if machines can do those tasks, it “frees up employees to take on higher-value work.” In his own company, Krishna said they were beginning to automate key tasks, and have been able to shift from 700 people doing HR-related manual tasks, to just 50.
And Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has previously told Fortune that today’s workforce should be prepared to work “hand in hand with A.I.” He added in a statement this week that A.I. could unlock potential on a large scale.
“This new generation of AI will remove the drudgery of work and unleash creativity,” Nadella said. “There’s an enormous opportunity for AI-powered tools to help alleviate digital debt, build AI aptitude, and empower employees.”
But not everyone is as optimistic about how A.I. could change the job landscape. Geoffrey Hinton, an award-winning A.I. pioneer and a former engineering fellow at Google, said he was concerned about some of the more mundane jobs being replaced by A.I.
“It takes away the drudge work,” Hinton told the New York Times. “It might take away more than that.”
Other experts say there’s also the concern about using A.I. to generate opportunities rather than destroy them.
“I think there’s a risk that ChatGPT makes us a lot more productive in easy-to-do stuff, but the hard part to figure out is how we can use A.I. to create innovation that then creates new occupations and new industries,” Carl Benedikt Frey, an economist who predicted automation would wipe out 47% of U.S. jobs 10 years ago, told Fortune in February.