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How AI is already impacting jobs in the U.S.


2023 may go down as the year AI hit the mainstream. It's only been a little over a year since ChatGPT made its public debut. And a lot of people are wondering and worrying about how ChatGPT and other AI could change the way we work. Recently, NPR's labor and workplace correspondent Andrea Hsu spoke with one illustrator about his fears and hopes for AI and the dilemmas raised by incorporating it into his work.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: Baltimore illustrator John de Campos has strong feelings about AI, dating back to when he discovered that some of his original work had been used to train AI to be smarter.

JOHN DE CAMPOS: And I'm not famous at all. I'm, like, a very not-well-known dude outside of the world of just Baltimore.

HSU: He joined the ranks of artists denouncing programs that use AI to create images, pointing out that they were built using work, like his, scraped from the internet without permission.

DE CAMPOS: It's so gross.

HSU: Practically overnight, programs like Midjourney and DALL-E have made it possible for anyone to create highly sophisticated images for fun, but also to make money or, if you're a business, to save money. For de Campos, that's an outrage and a concern.

DE CAMPOS: The fact that human expression in art is now at risk and on the chopping block is just, like, super-duper scary to me.

HSU: Now de Campos is hoping to make a living as a board game designer.

DE CAMPOS: So, yeah, here's some of my stuff here.

HSU: In his home studio, he shows me his newest release, Black Mold, which he describes as a survival horror escape. It's played with dice and decks of cards adorned with drawings sprung from his own mind and hand.

DE CAMPOS: This game is massive. There's easily 50- or 60-hours' worth of illustration work in this box.

HSU: It's work that de Campos knows can be done and is being done elsewhere by AI. As disgusted as he is by that, even he has found a use for AI. Nowadays, he uses ChatGPT to write updates for his Kickstarter followers and social media posts to market his games. He starts by dictating instructions into his phone.

DE CAMPOS: I'll say, like, these are the qualities of the game that we're selling. Take all of this information, melt it down into 15 words or less. Give me five different versions written to sell this product on Instagram.

HSU: He'll take what he likes, make a few edits, and mission accomplished in a fraction of the time. De Campos says he doesn't have the same ethical issues using AI to generate text as he does with images.

DE CAMPOS: And I think that that's probably a lot of implicit bias. And I'm trying to grapple with being maybe a little hypocritical for using generative text. I'm kind of figuring it out.

SHAPIRO: All right. Andrea Hsu is here to talk with us about how workers are grappling with the role of AI in their jobs as they integrate that technology and how we can gain perspective instead of panic around the impact of AI on our work. Hey, Andrea.

HSU: Hey.

SHAPIRO: Fascinating to hear the ambivalence of John de Campos there as he resents AI and also uses it in his daily life.

HSU: Yeah. And, Ari, to take you a little bit behind the scenes for a minute - probably the first half hour or even 45 minutes of our conversation was all about the ways that he sees AI ruining art. And then he suddenly took that turn and started talking about how, as a small business owner, he was finding ChatGPT to be a real timesaver. Of course, as you heard, he's now struggling with how he feels about that because he knows there's also artistry in writing and writers out there who are concerned about their future. So I really appreciated his honesty and realized that this is what all of us are going to be grappling with. It's less if we are going to have to incorporate AI into our work and more how we do it and how we can be thoughtful about it.

SHAPIRO: And we're talking about jobs in the creative space, which are not the kinds of occupations that have historically faced existential threats from new technologies.

HSU: That's right. You know, over history, we've seen how advancements in computers and robotics have replaced a lot of manual jobs. Factories used to have many times more workers than they do now. I've been in factories where all you see are people pushing buttons.

SHAPIRO: So one big change is that the AI innovations we're seeing - these tools like ChatGPT - they are more likely to impact knowledge workers than manual workers.

HSU: Yeah. The economic researchers at the job site indeed.com put out this fascinating report recently that examined which jobs are the most and least likely to be impacted by AI. They looked at how good AI tools are at doing different tasks involved in all these different jobs. So at one end, you have driving jobs. Right now, they face the lowest risk of being replaced because while AI might be OK or pretty good at some of the skills required for those jobs, like communication, it's rated poor at actually operating a vehicle.

SHAPIRO: Huh. So even though there's lots of talk about autonomous vehicles, at this point, AI is not up to the task of driving a car.

HSU: Yeah, exactly. Now, some of the other jobs that AI wouldn't be good at right now are things like caregiving. You can't have an AI watching a room full of toddlers - also, food preparation and nursing.

SHAPIRO: Well, what are the jobs on the other end that are most likely to be impacted by AI?

HSU: Well, software developers top the list. The Indeed researchers found that generative AI is good or excellent at 95% of the skills in software development job postings. And I've talked to workers in this field who say it is saving them a ton of time already because the AI is better and faster at writing code than they are.

And another occupation that appears at risk - legal assistance. We had several people from law firms respond to a callout that we did about how AI was changing their work, and they told us about how AI can help with document review. You can ask ChatGPT to summarize mountains of documents that would take days to go through. AI can also comb through case law and build an argument. But Ari, of course there are hazards to outsourcing this kind of work to AI. And you might recall, there was a New York lawyer who was sanctioned earlier this year after he was caught citing bogus cases in the lawsuit against an airline. You know, in court, he told the judge he had used ChatGPT for legal research and hadn't bothered to double-check the bot's work.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, I remember that case. OK, so for those of us who fear that AI might come for our jobs in the future, what can we do to protect ourselves, to remain needed?

HSU: Yeah. Well, I took some advice from someone else who responded to our callout - Ethan Kissel in Michigan. He produces television commercials for local businesses. He's involved in everything from going to meet with the clients to discuss what they want to writing the scripts to shooting the video, bringing in voice actors and then editing it all together.

ETHAN KISSEL: So I was basically from the moment the project started to the end of creating the commercial.

HSU: And he pointed out to me that, you know, any one of those jobs could be at risk if that one job was all you did. But he's not so afraid for his own job because, you know, he says, I'm a jack of all trades. And I also got another tidbit from Jeffrey Garcia. He works at a tech company in a project management role. He told me his bosses have not told him that he needs to be using AI yet, but he's just taking it upon himself to experiment with various tools to do things like start project plans, to do some of the data analytics that he does as part of his job. And he's finding, wow, this is really helping me be more efficient. And he's concluded that it's prudent for him to stay on top of where this technology is and, you know, understand how it's changing his profession so that he can make sure his skills remain relevant.

JEFFREY GARCIA: I think it's a matter of finding ways to kind of evolve and adapt with the technology.

SHAPIRO: When you put it that way, it sounds not all that different from previous technological innovations - from computers to the internet - where it's just a matter of figuring out how to make it make your work better rather than replace you.

HSU: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Andrea Hsu, thanks for your reporting.

HSU: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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