Is AI A Threat Or An Enabler? India Inc Shows Faith, Claims More Jobs Will Be Created


Ever since OpenAI-developed ChatGPT made its public debut in November 2023, the world has been agog to see the positive and negative impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and its derivatives on regular workflow. ChatGPT, and the many other generative AI platforms that cropped up soon enough, showed how AI could actually assist humans in streamlining their work and deliver results more efficiently. 

This sudden surge of AI assistance came at a time when companies (particularly tech and startups) were trying hard to cope with the post-COVID bubble burst and testing macroeconomic conditions. Layoffs of human workers seemed to be the only logical — albeit drastic — solution. Of course, some firms were quick to identify that AI could take care of several so-called mundane tasks, automating them and removing the need for human employees. 

While those with a bearish mentality would stomp and shout that AI is a bane to all human workers, we need to remind ourselves that there are two sides to each coin. And Indian tech leaders are no strangers to seeing AI as an aid and an opportunity to upskill and grow — rather than being an alternative to human hands. 

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The AI Threat…

As per a June 2023 report by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, US-based employers laid off 80,089 workers in May this year (compared to 20,712 in May 2022). What’s to be noted is that out of the total number, nearly 4,000 tech employees lost their jobs due to AI. 

A recent survey by Microsoft, published in its Work Trend Index 2023 report, found that 74 per cent of workers in India are worried that AI could replace them. The study also revealed that 83 per cent of employees in the country would assign much of their workload to AI to reduce pressure and streamline output. 

However, there is a certain silver lining. The study also showed that creative workers in the country who are familiar with AI tools and how to use them, don’t really mind using them to deliver better results. Incredibly, the study also claimed that Indian managers are 1.6 times more likely to agree that AI would rather boost workplace productivity than cut jobs. 

ALSO READ: Generative AI Unlikely To Replace Most Jobs But Clerical Workers At Risk, UN Study Warns

…And Looking Beyond It

Just days before the much-awaited G20 Summit is set to begin in New Delhi, global business leaders convened at the national capital on August 25 at the B20 meet. Surprisingly enough, top executives were gaga about how AI could be an enabler and may even lead to more jobs. 

B20 India Chair and Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran said, “In a country like us, [AI] will create jobs because it will empower people with the little skill or no skill, will empower them with information skill so that they can perform a higher level of jobs.” 

Chandrasekaran added, “The world is currently navigating through three important fundamental transitions. The first is the digital and artificial intelligence transition; the second, energy transition and the third, a global value supply chain transition. India is extremely well positioned to lead in all the three.” 

Instead of job displacement, AI could help workers scale up when used proficiently. “A nurse will be able to take on the workload of a doctor, and that’s how it will scale up people,” he added. “There are two main concerns about AI: Will it take away jobs, and will it protect privacy? I believe that it will create jobs in the country. India has taken a techno-legal approach to data privacy.”

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen seconded Chandrasekaran’s opinion. “I believe that digital literacy today is the great equaliser. It’s the great enabler, and AI is at the forefront of that. So, embrace it,” Narayen said. 

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna chimed in, “The more mundane tasks can be done by AI. We found coding productivity can be increased by 60 per cent with AI,” he claimed, adding that overall productivity could see a boost of 30 per cent. “As you make people more productive with tech, you have more per capita GDP.”

ALSO READ: Digital Disconnect: Where Should Artistes Draw The AI Line?

A Cautious Approach

Microsoft President Brad Smith — who was also a B20 attendee — co-authored a book on the “promise and perils of the digital age” with Carol Ann Browne in 2019, where a chapter was titled, “Don’t ask what computers can do, ask what they should do.”

As the world tries to cope with the sudden threat of AI, the aforementioned statement has perhaps become more important than ever. 

“Countries around the world are asking common questions. How can we use this new technology to solve our problems? How do we avoid or manage new problems it might create? How do we control technology that is so powerful? These questions call not only for broad and thoughtful conversation, but decisive and effective action,” Smith wrote in a Microsoft blog published in August.  

He added, “To develop AI solutions that serve people globally and warrant their trust, we’ve defined, published, and implemented ethical principles to guide our work. And we are continually improving engineering and governance systems to put these principles into practice. Today, we have nearly 350 people working on responsible AI at Microsoft, helping us implement best practices for building safe, secure, and transparent AI systems designed to benefit society.”

“…Designed to benefit society” — the last bit of Smith’s sentence perhaps best defines what the whole technology-as-an-enabler ideology is truly supposed to be. And not just a way for companies to cut costs and deliver subpar results. 

To truly understand what this author is trying to put his finger on, just try to sort out an issue by talking to an AI chatbot on Uber, Zomato, HDFC Bank, or any other similar platform. If we compare forced AI-based customer grievance solutions to the human-caller approach, it would be something like comparing a live pet with a malfunctioning toy. 

Hence, regulation and governance of AI deployment are of utmost importance, especially since the technology is still in its nascent stage globally. 

Smith shared a five-point blueprint for public governance of AI in his blog. Here’s what he stated:

• Implement and build upon new government-led AI safety frameworks
• Require effective safety brakes for AI systems that control critical infrastructure
• Develop a broader legal and regulatory framework based on the technology architecture for AI
• Promote transparency and ensure academic and public access to AI
• Pursue new public-private partnerships to use AI as an effective tool to address the inevitable societal challenges that come with new technology

“As the current holder of the G20 Presidency and Chair of the Global Partnership on AI, India is well positioned to help advance a global discussion on AI issues,” Smith added. “Many countries will look to India’s leadership and example on AI regulation. India’s strategic position in the Quad and efforts to advance the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework present further opportunities to build awareness amongst major economies and drive support for responsible AI development and deployment within the Global South.”

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