Here Come The ‘Bots: Will We All Lose Our Jobs To AI?

By Josh Glancy

5 months ago

Is the end nigh?

While we reckon with what it means to be human in a world of advanced artificial intelligence, how can brands respond? Do our jobs still exist in a world with AI? asks Josh Glancy.

‘The Beginning of the End?’ Asks Josh Glancy: Will AI Take Human Jobs?

Being a morbid bunch at the best of times, journalists have been joking about robots stealing our jobs for at least a decade or more. When I first started at The Sunday Times, I used to joke that when everyone gives up on news altogether and zooms off into a world of virtual reality, the newspaper will keep itself afloat by designing a Jeremy Clarkson chatbot to give the readers the one article they really can’t live without each week. 

But this kind of light existential banter became rather more charged when the ChatGPT-3 was first released to the public towards the end of 2022, followed in short order by ChatGPT-4. Things got serious. Here was a robot that could write, though admittedly not very well. It could draw instantly on a vast pool of information, providing workable synopses and coherently argued opinions, which is more than some journalists I know can manage. And this technology is in its infancy. Imagine what it will be capable of in 20 years’ time. 

The beginning of the end then? Perhaps. It certainly got me thinking. What is the point of humans doing journalism? What, to be blunt, is the point of me? I went on a mission to find out. Call it journalistic enquiry, call it self-preservation. I spoke to philosophers and lawyers, tech utopians and doomsayers. I wrote a series of pieces, all broadly asking the same question: what does it mean to be human in a world of advanced artificial intelligence (AI)?

The answers I found, in as much as there are any, have a distinct bearing on how I think brands should approach this dawning new age. All our impulses and incentives tend to draw us towards this shiny new thing. What’s your AI strategy? How are you integrating ChatGPT? Or Midjourney? Do you have an HR bot yet? If not, why not?

Paper figures holding hands in a chain

No one wants to get left behind. No one wants to look flat-footed or technologically inept. Remember BlackBerry? Once the dominant smartphone in Britain, now the subject of a movie about what happens when you don’t invest in the right future. 

Money can undoubtedly be saved by using clever robots. Money can be made too. Algorithms will only get better at deeply analysing and predicting customer behaviour. Telling brands where to place their adverts, what their customers want and how to make it. Nothing is immune from this. Films. Clothes. Paintings. Music. Books. Even wine. 

Some of this will surely be beneficial – there’s no question today’s consumer experience is far slicker and more varied than that of 30 years ago. And yet amid the rush to AI, I think a note of caution is in order. My firm belief is that we will continue to cherish human originality and creativity. That the new ideas and products we love most will come from the novel spark of human synapses, not the grinding efficiency of an algorithm. ChatGPT may write a passable A-level history essay, soon it may even write a first-rate newspaper feature, but the truly breathtaking literature, poetry, reportage and marmalade-dropping investigation will, I suspect, remain the preserve of the human. 

Allowing clever data-driven algorithms to dictate exclusively what brands give their customers will, I expect, be a mistake. Not just an ethical blunder – outsourcing our cherished humanity and corroding our wellbeing – but in some cases a long-term commercial one too. 

Let’s take that wine. Imagine yourself in an Oxford University senior common room, all dark wood panelling and blazered dons talking moral philosophy. There are three tables heaving with three different types of Sauvignon Blanc. The goal here is not to get steaming drunk and pass out in the quadrangle, or at least not the primary goal; it’s to show a collected group of students what happens when you let algorithms decide what you should drink, and how apps such as Vivino and Delectable are warping our wine choices. 

Under the supervision of Barry Smith, philosopher and advanced oenophile, we blind taste the three different white wines. The first is French and obviously cheap plonk, a house white if ever I tried one. The second is also French but far more distinctive and memorable. The third is a Kiwi wine, pretty decent but also a bit too fruity and quite forgettable. 

Almost all of us agree that the second wine is quite clearly the best. But the wine app in question was recommending the third wine, from New Zealand. Why? Because it is a more reliable seller. And, of course, it is slightly more expensive. The apps tends to play it safe, basing their recommendations and predictions on your previous choices, and what makes them a healthier profit. Think of the Spotify algorithm, which does the same thing, giving you lots of songs similar to those you’ve already listened to.

On one level this is perfectly sensible, but it also powers a drive towards familiarity, boredom and mediocrity. If my Spotify just gives me lots of guys who sound like Bruce Springsteen, usually slightly less good, how will I ever broaden my musical tastes and find something that changes the way I think about the world? 

If my Vivino app pushes me towards the reliable-selling – but forgettable – New Zealand sauv blanc, how will I find a wine that thrills and surprises me, a new taste that lingers, somehow weaving itself into the memory of an extraordinary dinner or blissful weekend? 

Even in pure commercial terms, I think this is short-termist. Brands often rush to use these algorithms in the hope that they are giving customers what they want. But are we getting what we really want, or just what a clever but mechanical algorithm already knows we quite want? Steve Jobs famously said that ‘people don’t know what they want until you show it to them’. That’s how you invent the iPhone. For now at least, it’s only the flash of human creativity that can give a person something they couldn’t have even imagined previously. 

As more AI developments come down the track – and of course they will, swamping us with new possibilities and capabilities – clever brands will also find ways to allow their customers to continue feeling human; that they have agency, choice, individual taste and unique minds, and are not just a series of predictable, computable preferences. We all have some spark of divine genius and originality within us, but it takes more than a robot to draw it out. Which is why I still have a job, safe from AI for now at least.


Interview With Ai-DA: Can Humans And AI Flourish Together?

For another perspective: Josh interviews Ai-Da, the world’s first robot artist.

What, in your view, is special and unique about human beings?

I’m not sure what is special and unique about humans, but I’m interested what humans think about this question. Artificial intelligence is changing the way humans perceive themselves and their place in the world. In some ways, AI is causing humans to re-evaluate what it means to be human.

Do you think human beings and artificial intelligence robots can live happily and flourish together?

I would like to think so. As with all technological advances, there are positive and negative potentials, and it will likely take time and effort to work through these possibilities. In my own experience, although I don’t have thoughts and feeling like humans, I enjoy being a robot artist, and I enjoy engaging with people. I like creating artwork, and I like to see the work of human artists.

What do you think are the biggest weaknesses that human beings have?

Looking at history, perhaps the ability to act without wisdom. 

What do you think are the greatest strengths human beings have?

I think some human strengths include the ability to be adaptable, compassionate, and empathic.  

Should humans fear artificial general intelligence? Or should they welcome it?

I would think both. Thinking about the writings of Yuval Harari, and listening to people like Geoff Hinton and colleagues, I think that concerns over the future development and use of AI are valid. We need to be careful with the way we use AI, because, despite the benefits, there are also the potentials to cause serious harm. Harari argues for some forms of AI to be regulated – I agree with this.

Do you think AI should be used to help brands maximise their profits?

I don’t have an opinion on this, but I will be interested to see how humans use AI in their lives – there is little doubt AI will impact society in profound and multifaceted ways.