Now is the Time to Prepare for AI’s Systemic Impact

January 24, 2024
By John Onoda
people and robots

In conjunction with the gathering of CEOs, political leaders, celebrities, cutting-edge thinkers and influencers in Davos, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released a report that predicts how artificial intelligence (AI) will affect workers around the world.

Among the other consequences of the AI revolution, the report addresses the following points about AI and its impact on workers:

  • AI will affect around 40 percent of all jobs globally
  • High wage earners will be impacted much more than low wage earners
  • People in developed nations will be impacted more than those in developing nations

No time frames are reported, perhaps because AI adoption is already happening at different rates in different industries and geographic regions; but given the astonishing speed at which generative AI is impacting professional work in developed countries, it’s reasonable to assume we’ll see much of the change over the coming decade. Keep in mind that AI is not new and is already being used by technologists inside many large companies and some large government agencies.

 

"Embracing an AI-enhanced workplace and the adapt-or-die mentality that it requires will be a shock to the system for workers of all ages, and may prove to be the greatest daily challenge of all.”

 

Many thousands of people have already learned to use AI in their everyday work. There are likely millions more who are deploying software tools that they may not even realize have been AI-enhanced over the past year or two. So far, so good. Many people have noticed increased productivity, especially when it comes to communications of all kinds. The people adopting readily to these new capabilities tend to be digital natives in the younger segment of the workforce. However, embracing an AI-enhanced workplace and the adapt-or-die mentality that it requires will be a shock to the system for workers of all ages, and may prove to be the greatest daily challenge of all.

 

Taking the Bad with the Good

The IMF report indicates that, while about half of the AI-impacted workers will benefit from the new technology, the other half will be negatively impacted. Organizations may suffer headcount reduction as AI efficiency reaches scale. It’s easy to imagine fewer workers needed at professional services organizations where many people conduct research, analyze data, write reports and compile financial documents; and also at places like the DMV, entertainment venues and airports where hordes of people shuffle in lines at counters to be processed by a human being.

Less evident will be the shrinking pool of entry-level professional jobs. For example, at public relations and marketing agencies, AI will be able to do many of the tasks asked of summer interns and new graduates. When it comes to writing, the AI product will often be better, as will the first drafts of plans. If this phenomenon applies to law firms, accounting firms, government agencies, university administrative departments, large retailers and NGOs, the crucial first job is going to become more difficult for young people to acquire. This will probably disproportionately impact first-generation college graduates, who lack the networks and allies that can help them leap the chasm.

Looking ahead a few years, AI will likely drive process and organizational changes. Healthcare processes should speed up and become more efficient. Clients will expect work products from professional services firms to be delivered quicker and, perhaps, cheaper. Anything that requires many levels of review and revision will be under pressure to become more streamlined by eliminating human effort in areas that do not require great judgment, insight or nuance.

 

Planning for Organizational Change

In short, organizations of all sizes will face the need to embrace AI improvements in ways that lead to efficiency, speed and cost reductions. This fits with the new Accenture report that determined the rate of business change has increased 183 percent over the past four years, and predicted change to continue accelerating in 2024.

Inside most organizations, people resist change. For example, once remote work became the new normal, employers’ efforts to compel people to return to the office became contentious. AI is going to require people to learn to use new tools, interact with others in new ways and reset their expectations regarding both colleagues and customers. And this will not be a one-time change; it will be an ongoing process for years.

Building acceptance of change, flexibility, continuous learning and ongoing adaptation of AI breakthroughs will be a crucial organizational challenge, made even harder by remote work dynamics. Developing this muscle will require preparation, planning and follow through. In our experience, many mid- and upper-level executives are not experienced in managing organizational change of this degree; nor are corporate cultures engineered to foster change.

So, the time to lay the groundwork to become an organization that can fully capitalize on AI is not tomorrow; it was yesterday.