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Artificial intelligence (AI) is frequently cast as wreaking havoc and destroying jobs in reports about its increasing use by providers. The current coverage of telecom group BT’s plans to decrease its quantity of staff is a case in point.

Even so, when it is AI that is featured in the headlines, in this case, it is the shift from copper to optical fibre in the BT network that is the true story.

When I was a boy, workers for the GPO – the Basic Post Workplace, the forerunner of BT – had been normal shoppers in my parents’ newsagent’s shop. They drove about in lorries erecting telegraph poles and repairing overhead phone wires. Instances – and technologies – have changed, and continue to transform. BT’s transition from copper to optical fibre is just the newest technologies transition.

This move by BT has expected a massive, a single-off work, which is coming to an finish, along with the jobs it designed. And for the reason that fibre is extra trustworthy, there is significantly less require for a workforce of fitters in the field carrying out repairs.

This will transform the shape of BT as an operation: rather than an organisation of individuals in vans, it will have a network designers and managers who, for the most component, can monitor gear in the field remotely.

This is taking place in other sectors as well. Rolls-Royce aircraft engines are monitored as they are flying from an workplace in Derby. The photocopier in your workplace – if you nonetheless have an workplace (or a photocopier for that matter) – is possibly also monitored automatically by the supplier, without having a technician going anyplace close to it.

AI ‘co-piloting’

AI may possibly contribute in component to the reduction in consumer service jobs at BT by becoming capable to speed up and help somewhat routine tasks, such as screening calls or writing letters and emails to shoppers.

But this ordinarily does not take the type of a “robot” replacing a worker by taking more than their whole job. It is extra a case of AI technologies assisting human workers – acting as “co-pilots” – to be extra productive in specific tasks.

This at some point reduces the all round quantity of employees expected. And, in the BT story, AI is only described in respect of a single-fifth of the jobs to be reduce, and even then, only as a single of the motives.

In my personal investigation amongst law and accountancy firms with my colleagues James Faulconbridge and Atif Sarwar, AI-primarily based technologies quite seldom just do issues faster and more affordable. Rather, they automate some tasks, but their analytical capabilities also offer additional insights into clients’ troubles.

Superior assistance, new jobs

A law firm could possibly use a document overview package to search for difficulty clauses in hundreds of leases, for instance. It can then use the all round pattern of what is discovered as a basis for advising a client on managing their house portfolio greater.

Similarly, in auditing, AI technologies can automate the activity of obtaining suspicious transactions amongst thousands of entries, but also create insights that assistance the client to have an understanding of their dangers and program their cashflow extra efficiently.

In these approaches, the technologies can let law and accountancy firms to supply extra advisory solutions to consumers. AI adoption also creates new varieties
of jobs, such as engineers and information scientists in law firms.

Current advances in generative AI – which generate text or pictures in response to prompts, with ChatGPT and GPT four becoming the most apparent examples – do present new possibilities and issues. There is no doubt that they exhibit some potentially new capabilities and even, for some, “sparks” of artificial common intelligence.

These technologies will have an effect on perform and transform some types of jobs. But they are not the key culprit in the BT case, and researchers and journalists alike require to maintain a cool head and examine the proof in each and every case.

We really should strive to act responsibly when innovating with AI, as with any other technologies. But also: beware the knee-jerk, sensationalist response to the use of AI in perform.

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