Oxford University academics, Professors Carl-Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, have issued a stark warning about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on remote workers.

In a draft paper, the professors highlight that tasks that can be executed remotely are the most susceptible to automation.

Prof. Frey emphasised that AI’s capabilities now extend to potentially replacing human labour in numerous virtual settings.

He noted, “It now looks like AI may be able to replace human labour in many virtual settings, meaning that if a task can be done remotely, it can also be potentially automated.”

Conversely, office-based workers face a lower risk of displacement because AI currently struggles to replicate the value of in-person interactions, including real-life conversations and meetings.

Prof. Frey emphasised, “In-person interactions remain valuable, and such real-life interactions cannot be readily substituted.”

Is a return to the office the answer?

These findings could prompt individuals who have been resisting the return to office work to reconsider their stance. Several prominent companies, including Disney, Facebook, Lloyds, and Goldman Sachs, have encountered resistance from employees as they attempt to bring them back to the office.

Professors Frey and Osborne have been researching AI for over a decade and had previously predicted in 2013 that automation could jeopardise hundreds of millions of jobs, putting nearly half of all US roles at risk.

AI has already caused substantial disruptions in workplaces worldwide. In Hollywood, thousands of actors and writers have gone on strike, citing concerns that their roles could be replaced by robots or digital avatars. The emergence of powerful AI tools, such as OpenAI’s ChatGPT, has further fuelled speculation about impending job losses.

These advanced tools can summarise emails, compose essays, engage in eerily-human conversations, provide recommendations, and compile research. Professors Frey and Osborne noted in their paper that these new chatbots can now perform tasks that previously demanded human social intelligence, including negotiation, persuasion, and language analysis.

Is there an immune job?

Also, the professors acknowledged that several roles previously believed to be immune to automation are now at risk. The paper states, “The potential scope of automation has expanded in that many virtual social interactions can now be automated.”

However, Prof. Frey cautioned that the current generation of AI machines can still produce errors, often referred to as “hallucinations.” In the short term, the professors believe that ChatGPT and other generative bots are more likely to enhance productivity in creative jobs rather than replace human workers entirely.

They also noted that the widespread deployment of AI bots in the workplace would encounter “diminishing returns” due to the high costs associated with maintaining the computing power required for these models.

The professors’ findings underscore the evolving landscape of AI in the workplace, urging both employees and employers to adapt to the changing dynamics of automation.

 

 

 

 

Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.