COMP NEWS – A new study indicates that AI may not hurt lower-skilled workers as much as mid-skilled workers in white-collar office jobs.

Academics Erik Brynjolfsson, Lindsey R. Raymond, and Danielle Li recently studied the impact of access to an AI-based conversational assistant on almost 5,200 customer support agents at a Fortune 500 software company. The trio found that the tool helped increase productivity by 14%. And critically, it was novice workers who benefited most.


“In contrast to studies of prior waves of computerization, we find that these gains accrue disproportionately to less-experienced and lower-skill workers,” read their academic paper. “We argue that this occurs because ML systems work by capturing and disseminating the patterns of behavior that characterize the most productive agents.”


In other words, the lessons learned from months or years of experience are baked into an AI tool. As novice workers get access to these tools, they’re supercharged, helping them close the gap in performance with more experienced colleagues. 


Or, as the study puts it: “We find that the AI tool helps newer agents move more quickly down the experience curve: treated agents with two months of tenure perform just as well as untreated agents with over six months of tenure.”

One professor likens the advent of AI to the impact of Uber on taxi drivers.

Professor Carl Benedikt Frey, the director of future of work at the Oxford Martin School, likens this shift to the impact of Uber on London taxi drivers. For decades, every taxi driver in London has been required to pass a test called the Knowledge, which requires memorizing miles of streets of central London.


Then, Uber arrived and essentially put the Knowledge on every cell phone in every car in London.   


“Suddenly, knowing the name of each street in London was no longer valuable expertise, so that anybody with a drivers license could drive a taxi,” Frey told me over email. “The result was more competition for incumbent taxi drivers who saw their incomes fall by around 10%.”


Now you could see the same effect on lots of white-collar work. Think translators, web designers, lawyers, coders, accountants, copywriters, or HR professionals. The skills developed through advanced degrees or years of experience in a specific role or company might soon be embedded into a generative AI tool, lowering the bar to entry. 


The benefit to employers here is clear. If a less experienced employee aided by an AI tool can be as effective as a more expensive, more experienced employee, you can guess what’s going to happen next. 

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