Talking about technology these days is talking about tens of thousands of layoffs. The departures at Microsoft, Amazon, Meta or Alphabet have been accompanied by apologies from senior managers and assumption of blame for having misdiagnosed the consumption habits of the new post-pandemic world: the boom in e-commerce and teleworking has not had the continuity they expected . And the income statements are noticing it. But while the cuts come to light —some surprising, such as the goodbye of 27 Google masseurs—, there is a game in which no one is allowed to save: the leap to artificial intelligence.
Microsoft is the best example of that redirection of resources. On January 18, it announced 10,000 layoffs, 5% of its workforce. And five days later, it announced an agreement to increase its investment in OpenAI, the company that has launched the ChatGPT artificial intelligence tool, which has dazzled the world with its ability to generate content elaborated enough to pass university entrance exams. He will disburse 10,000 million dollars in several years. Both ChatGPT and Dall-E, an artificial intelligence system capable of translating user’s written instructions into original images, also owned by OpenAI, already have millions of users.
The giants look askance at each other, because the advances of one can mean loss of business for others, as explained by Celso Otero, manager of Renta 4. “When you do searches on Google, you get links to pages that have answers to what you ask, but it is not a direct answer. When you start interacting with ChatGPT, this goes to your concise question. It saves you time,” he notes. Are we facing a credible threat to the almighty Google? It’s probably too early to tell, but the Mountain View headquarters are already flashing red lights, The New York Times reported, as a new generation of super-intelligent chat rooms could replace or steal some of its browser traffic.
Perhaps with the intention of instilling optimism at a time as difficult as announcing layoffs, the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, included in the same message in which he spoke of the departure of 12,000 employees references to the irruption of the company , years ago, in the universe of artificial intelligence. “Thanks to those early investments, Google products are better than ever,” he said. In 2014, the company bought the British firm DeepMind Technologies, specialized in electronic commerce and video games, which at that time cited as its objective the development of computers that think like humans, something similar to what ChatGPT does nine years later to the astonishment of those who read its poems and essays, or those who use it to program.
To what extent are tools like ChatGPT monetizable? For Otero, it’s simple. “When you go from being a conventional user to using it professionally, you already pay there. Going from searching Google for free to paying to go to a more direct answer or paying a monthly fee is a bit like when you went from piracy to Netflix. I don’t see monetization as complicated. You have a content generator, user service chats, text revision, translator…”.
Other companies, such as IBM, also market artificial intelligence solutions. One of them is a virtual agent called Anna who is used by the French bank ABN Amro, and according to the computer company, she has a million conversations a year with the clients of the financial institution to resolve incidents. Amazon uses similar technologies for internal consumption, and also sells them to other companies. They use the same conversation engine as the Alexa voice assistant, and as Amazon explains on its website, it allows those who purchase them to “create sophisticated natural language chatbots in their applications.”
The great substitution?
Before the existence of these tools, this work was done by flesh and blood workers. Is it the beginning of the great substitution that some venture? A study by the consulting firm PwC predicts that in the long term “less educated workers could be particularly exposed to automation”, and they emphasize the importance of permanent learning and job retraining so as not to be left out of the game. Regarding specific sectors, he maintains that financial jobs are vulnerable to automation in the short term, while those related to transport would be particularly affected in the long term by the rise of phenomena such as driverless vehicles, although they do not expect that to happen. massively until the 1930s. The market likes that salary-saving music: this week the BuzzFeed medium tripled its value on the stock market in just two days after learning that it will generate part of its content with ChatGPT, without using editors.
The opposite side is represented by the jobs that AI is already generating. A report on the future of work published in 2020 by the World Economic Forum speaks of 97 million jobs created by 2025 worldwide related to automation and technological changes, mainly artificial intelligence and Big Data. Those numbers face threats such as a shortage of certain professionals According to a McKinsey study on the state of artificial intelligence in 2022 “all organizations report that hiring AI talent, particularly data scientists, remains difficult ”. Data, software and machine learning engineers, specialists in design and data visualization or translators are among the most in demand.
Gloria Macías, a McKinsey partner who is an expert on the subject, believes that the current of history cannot be stopped. “All the transformations, beginning with the industrial revolution, have brought the threat of eliminating jobs, giving, however, the beginning of times of greater growth. One of the aspects to take into account are the benefits that it could bring to some sectors or segments, such as doctors who would improve remote diagnoses, the impact on the optimization of energy use or the increase in safety in industrial plants” .
The McKinsey text cites robotic process automation, computer vision, natural language text comprehension, and virtual agents or conversational interfaces as the most widespread uses of AI, which in practice would translate into functions such as creating personalized marketing, technical sales content or the review and writing of legal texts, among many others. In addition, he highlights that its adoption “has more than doubled since 2017 ″, although there is a gap. “A group of companies that get the highest financial returns from AI continue to get ahead of the competition,” he concludes. He does not mention names, but those same technological companies that today are fired in non-strategic areas to plunge into the new El Dorado of artificial intelligence come to mind.
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