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AI / Tech jobs / Workplace culture

OK, what is AI actually gonna change about work?

Artificial intelligence technology is hurtling forward. At work, it will reward specialists over generalists, and these execs say the fear is overblown.

Phenom CEO Mahe Bayireddi unveils AI tool Phenom X+ in March 2023. (Courtesy photo)

Written by Technically Media CEO Chris Wink,’s Culture Builder newsletter features tips on growing powerful teams and dynamic workplaces. Below is the latest edition we published. Sign up to get the next one.

The word “robot” got today’s meaning from a charming little play from 1920 in which artificial humans revolt and kill their creators.

An academic coined the term “artificial intelligence” in the 1950s, and AI research is decades old, including examples like the NARS Project at Temple University, as has reported. Despite decades of experience, we confront automated technology with a mix of fear and awe.

Last year, nearly half of Americans were equal parts excited and concerned about AI, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Even AI researchers are unsettled. Nearly half of 800 machine learning researchers polled last year gave a 10% probability that AI will result longterm in an extinction-level event for human civilization. A quarter said there’s no chance of that at all.

OpenAI, the research startup, recently launched GPT-4, its latest multimodal large language model that is the underlying technology of a wave of tools and applications. Once obscure, its best-known tool ChatGPT attracted 100 million users in 60 days, which could make it the fastest-adopted technology in history. That shocked lumbering tech giants like Google, Facebook and Microsoft to launch their own contributions.

“AI is the new electricity,” said Mahe Bayireddi, the cofounder and CEO of Phenom, an HR tech company that announced a new generative AI tool last week. “It is already ubiquitous, ambitious and foundational.”

Apple launched Siri in 2011; Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa debuted in 2014 and Google incorporated AI into search in 2015; recommendation engines in social media and streaming services have relied on AI for years. In 2015, some feared the singularity, but experts just kept telling that robots wouldn’t be so scary any time soon. But as technology analysts put it: AI is now in the growth-stage of its S-curve, meaning generations of research have collided with improved technology and user interest. After decades of research and years of talk, AI has gone mainstream and is now hurtling forward. Ethicists are battling what an “AI pause” would even look like.

“AI is amplified intelligence. We’ll need more humans to make judgments.”Mahe Bayireddi Phenom

“It’s doubling every six months now,” Gaurav Kachhawa said of AI quality, in an interview. He’s the chief product officer of Gupshup, a business messaging service that uses AI and raised $240 million in 2021. “This is an inflection point.”

Or as economist Rudi Dornbusch famously wrote, “things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could.”

That’s why business leaders, policymakers and nervous workers are wondering now: How much will AI change work, and how much of this moment is hype?

Answers tend to fall into one of two categories. Either AI is just another breakthrough technology that will replace some jobs but create others, or this time is different. Phenom CEO Bayireddi strikes a cautious tone, encouraging a slow-down of the technology’s deployment, but generally, like many tech CEOs, he takes the optimistic view.

“AI is amplified intelligence,” said Bayireddi at his company’s annual conference last week. “We’ll need more humans to make judgments.”

Organizations, and employees, who incorporate AI may outpace those who don’t. Add “cobot” and “copilot” to your terminology to understand how people will use AI tools in the coming years, he argued. Let the technology lead drug discovery and first drafts, so humans can make final decisions. AI rewards specialists over generalists, Bayireddi said. Put another way: AI won’t replace workers, workers who use AI will replace workers who don’t.

The generation-long digital transformation that has fueled many tech companies is coming to a close, Bayireddi said. The new battleground is building a team for the AI wars. “Every company is going through a talent transformation,” he said, “and it’s 10x bigger than the digital transformation.”

Risks remain. Diversity in artificial intelligence development matters. Unchecked AI poses a threat not unlike nuclear weapons — a small chance of destruction with irrevocable consequences. OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has argued better to navigate AI disruption slowly in an open society than an authoritarian regime.  More granularly, most of us worry about what it means for our jobs. Bayireddi says that we must be ready for change but argues no one wants a world without work. Robots are just tools.

“Jobs help people to be prosperous and to live in a democratic world,” Bayireddi said. “Innovation without jobs is stupidity.”

Companies: Phenom
Series: Builders
People: Mahe Bayireddi

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