We asked Georgia Tech AI experts key questions about the technology, its use and misuse, and how it might shape our shared future. Here’s part one of three.
In 2023, artificial intelligence is busy. It crafts blog posts, designs advertisements, answers customer service complaints, and even completes homework assignments. And those are just a few of its newer skills — it’s been reviewing resumes, manufacturing automobiles, suggesting songs, recommending products, and surveilling human faces and bodies for years.
These activities have long required human minds and, in many cases, eyes, ears, mouths, or hands. Now, it seems reasonable for people to ask, “Am I being replaced?”
The simple answer is of course not. The other simple answer? Absolutely.
Side note: If you ask ChatGPT if you will be replaced by AI, it will likely respond that it depends on your situation: the nature of your job, your industry, your skills, and your education. In short, a very reasonable answer.
“Every time there’s a disruptive technology, it changes the types of jobs people have,” said Judy Hoffman, assistant professor in the School of Interactive Computing who researches computer vision and machine learning. “There will be some jobs that go away and some new jobs that emerge, but until we’re truly in it, it’s hard to predict exactly what those jobs are.”
Members of the AI research community say AI will likely become an important part of many occupations. It’s also likely that job seekers who can use AI tools will have a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
David Joyner, executive director of Online Education and OMSCS in the School of Computing Instruction, and Brian Magerko, professor and director of graduate studies in digital media in the School of Literature, Media, and Communication, approach the question of AI from two different disciplines. Joyner’s research is focused on online education, learning at scale, and the ways AI can be integrated in teaching. Magerko’s work is related to the creative and social interactions between AI and humans. Both are often asked about whether AI will replace human jobs, and the two share a sentiment.
“Only if you don’t learn how to use it,” Magerko said.
“There’s a popular quote going around that I tend to agree with,” Joyner said. “People with AI will replace people without AI.”
The idea that a person must rely on AI assistants like ChatGPT to be competitive sounds dystopic at first, Joyner admits. That is, until you realize the exact same thing has happened with the emergence of every new technology in the past.
Accountants who learned how to use Excel replaced accountants who didn’t. Communications professionals and administrators who mastered word processing software replaced those who could only use typewriters.
According to Magerko, when photo editing software — very much an AI technology — came onto the scene, photo developers worried they would become extinct. But photographers who learned Photoshop and embraced digital editing moved forward along with the industry.
“In human history, technology has created far more jobs than it has ever replaced,” Joyner said. “And I think we’ll continue to see that happening.”
But, he adds, it would not be fair to say the emergence of AI is like that of previous disruptive technologies. Because it’s not.
For Magerko, whether AI will take over creative jobs has a simple answer in the form of a question. What will the market bear?
“If the owners of entertainment companies can replace people and the market will allow it, then, absolutely, writers, artists, designers, and musicians will be replaced,” he said.
“Look at the live music performance industry: How often do you rent a band for a party that you throw? People used to do it all the time. That was an entire industry that we, as a society, said that we were OK with it going away.”
Anxieties surrounding AI in the creative community are very real. A main concern underlying the writers’ strike of 2023 was that media companies could use AI to write or augment scripts with the goal of hiring fewer writers and reducing salary costs. For actors still on strike, the fear is that studios will use AI to create digital replicas and pay less for time on set.
Magerko, an artist himself, is skeptical that society will accept art, music, novels, and entertainment produced by AI. But there will likely be some things that we as a society approve of being auto-generated, like summaries of news articles, customer service operators, and even travel planning — which AI helps with already.
“I think there are other areas of life where we will say, ‘A human’s touch is really important,’” Magerko said. “It is about there being a connection to another person, to feeling heard, or to hearing someone else. The fact that human hands touched and made this thing becomes encoded in that object, poem, or song, and we appreciate it more because of that.”
Hoffman, whose work has wide applications for autonomous vehicles, thinks that the hype around AI has people overestimating how quickly it will begin to affect jobs.
“It’s important to remember that as the world changes, the types of jobs that people have will change, but it's not happening tomorrow,” she said. “Taxi drivers, Uber drivers, and chauffeurs are not going to be out of work as soon as self-driving vehicles hit the road, and people have been working on this technology for 30 years or more.”
For Joyner, the main takeaway is that AI is a tool that will allow people to do their jobs with increased efficiency, which will increase productivity. And at that point, there will still be more than enough work for humans to do.
“The idea that AI is going to replace people comes from an underlying assumption that there is a maximum amount of work to be done, and once all the work is done, people won't be necessary anymore,” Joyner said.
“There’s no real precedent for it, and I don’t think it’s true. I don’t think we, as humans, will ever say, ‘Time to shut it down, we’ve done what we came here to do.’”
Assistant Professor, Georgia Tech School of Computational Science and Engineering
Professor, Georgia Tech School of Literature, Media, and Communication and Director of Graduate Studies in Digital Media
Taetle Chair and Professor, Georgia Tech School of Interactive Computing
Writers: Catherine Barzler, Steven Norris
Graphic Design: Julie Watson
Web Design: Rachel Pilvinsky
Photography: Allison Carter, Joya Chapman, Rob Felt
Project Lead: Brice Zimmerman