2024 is the Year that AI Begins Eating Jobs
A recent report conducted by ResumeBuilder surveyed 750 business leaders that have adopted in AI technology. Alarmingly, 44% forecasted layoffs in 2024 due to AI efficiencies. But this is just the beginning. The reality is that businesses have been slow to adopt AI, partially due to a concern about unintended consequences.
For example, when Suumit Shah, the CEO of India-based eCommerce startup Duukan, gleefully bragged on Twitter about laying off 90% of his support staff by replacing them with ChatGPT, there was instant backlash on social media. Actually, he should count himself lucky that the response was so limited… it is likely that a massive global grass roots boycott campaign will emerge to punish any large company who is a first mover into AI layoffs. Like they say, “You can always tell who the pioneers were, from the arrows in their back.”
Consider Shah's followup mea culpa, in which he explains it was a no-brainer: “Time to first response went from 1m 44s to INSTANT! Resolution time went from 2h 13m to 3m 12s! Customer support costs reduced by 85%!” It’s not just me… any red-blooded CEO would have done the same! And the thing is, he’s telling the truth.
Expecting corporate management NOT to reduce support costs 85% while increasing customer satisfaction is like expecting a defense contractor to swear they’ll never program a drone to hunt down and kill a suspected terrorist. Anyone with a basic understanding of human nature will see that once the coast is clear, every major company will be downsizing the jobs they think are safe to eliminate… without undue risk of unintended consequences.
At a recent tech conference, Sam Altman of OpenAI, "I'm not afraid of [AI taking jobs] at all. In fact, I think that's good. I think that's the way of progress, and we'll find new and better jobs." That’s exciting to investors who want to see some return on their investment in AI, but cold comfort for anyone who depends on the job they have now! OpenAI needs to start producing revenues, and that means signing up Enterprise tier ChatGPT customers. And that means it has to help enterprises save money by eliminating jobs.
For all these reasons, we will look back on 2023 as the year of AI writing quirky limericks and creating eye catching videos… but 2024 will be remembered as the year that AI layoffs started.
There is a Better Way, a Middle Way
However, there exist more enlightened paths for companies seeking to become AI-powered than seeking to downsize and reduce costs. The path that I recommend is based on the brahmavihāras in Buddhism – known as the four abodes, or places where your awareness can reside. These are:
- loving kindness (mettā)
- compassion (karuṇā)
- altruistic joy (muditā)
- equanimity (upekkhā)
For a company, these could align with actions like:
Apply AI with kindness and compassion when it comes to both your employees and customers. For employees, offer intensive AI skills training NOW, before the layoffs, to invest in your people. For customers, publicly declare that your company will not invest in AI programs that either hurt or disadvantage humans, or pit machines against humans. This includes AI technologies that favor replacing humans over "human-centered AI," aimed at augmenting human abilities and fostering collaboration.
Altruistic joy is a more complex state of mind, but it has to do with aligning business practices with doing the right thing. It’s when doing the right thing makes you happy. For a company like OpenAI, the obvious thing is to offer additional stock grants for inventions that propel superalignment in AGI, but also, graduated sanctions for doing the wrong thing. For every other company not in the AI business, it means to start creating bonuses for all employees for achieving NetZero sustainability, supporting diversity programs, ending war, eliminating poverty, alleviating human suffering, and creating beauty. So when your company makes money and creates a positive social impact, everyone gets a bonus. You accidentally help to create SkyNet, and you lose all your stock. It would make sense for every company to create a “happiness index” as a key metric, and truly understand what that means… and most importantly, align executive compensation to it. To achieve altruistic joy in AI, an enterprise should focus on technologies that increase income, rather than reduce costs.
Finally, equanimity is key. Equanimity involves maintaining an inner calm and steadiness, especially after a shock or in a difficult situation. What this means for the modern corporation is that management needs to spread equanimity throughout the organization, because the transition that society is about to undertake is similar to surviving a storm at sea… you don’t want a lot of people running around in a panic. You want to work efficiently to implement a winning strategy for survival for everyone. Perhaps a better analogy is surviving an ice age. For instance, 15,000 years ago, ice age humans lived in hunter-gatherer tribes, built innovative shelters from mammoth bones, and sewed warm clothes from fur parkas and anorak stuffed with down and waterproofed with fat. When there was game, they hunted to create a surplus and buried it in permafrost—nature’s own icebox. And they learned how to harness fire.
In the 21st century, we will need to the same thing – form tribes that teach AI skills, enable digital shelters to weather the impact of layoffs, and learn how to harness the equivalent of fire. But most importantly, practical equanimity requires the creation of a common vision that spreads hope and builds resilience. Decentralizing equanimity is a vital component of leadership in the future. It means to have the courage to see that doomsday prophecies are possible, and then to efficiently prevent them. But the first step toward this new equanimity is exploring how AI can be leveraged as a tool to empower and augment human potential within the workforce. And the fulcrum of value for AI in the enterprise is enhancing the power of innovation. By making more money, you can afford to lay off fewer people in the days to come.
Some futurists predict that there will be a “post labor” economy, and believe that a Universal Basic Income is inevitable. They might even wear a Star Trek shirt while predicting this. However, any basic understanding of human nature will also predict that there will be a lot of pain before we arrive at that rosy utopian future. To pay for a universal basic income, a nation either has to save that money elsewhere or raise it through additional tax revenue, new taxes, or new services. To fund a basic income at the poverty line in the USA, roughly $12,000 per American adult per year, means finding about $3 trillion annually. This will likely double your taxes. And we can plainly see that no billionaire ever sees their fortune as “enough” and will be willing to share with those who aren’t busy working.
As we step into 2024, what we see before us is a fork in the road, between the path that leads to a utopian future and a path that laed into a digital ice age. Society hasn’t chosen a path yet, but our intrinsic human nature will urge us to act against the urging of our better angels. It will urge us to follow the path of “f**k your feelings.” But it’s just game theory, and we’re all locked into a massive Prisoner’s Dilemma. Is it possible to act in a manner that contradicts our programming, and rise to new kind of society, where all of us, together, paint a future that celebrates the fusion of technology and human resilience. It’s somewhere between digital ice age and shiny happy future… it’s the Middle Way.
As we stand at the cusp of a new era, the very first challenge, or riddle is to understand AI's impact on employment. So let’s start here.
What YOU Can Do as an Individual
So that’s what a company can do to survive the digital ice age coming. But what can individuals do? Is there something equivalent to the brahmavihāras for me?
Yes, there is. We can modernize the Buddhist Eightfold Path – Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration – and is considered a path to liberation from samsara, and apply it to how to proceed as an individual facing change. That is exactly the underlying framework for our upcoming AI Mastermind program, and this subject will be covered in a forthcoming article!