Career Advice for Job Seekers

Will AI benefit higher-skilled workers more, just like calculators did?

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Steven Rothberg AvatarSteven Rothberg
May 31, 2023

In my blog post yesterday, I tried to make the argument that the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) into our personal and professional lives will impact different kinds of workers differently. I am confident that is the case but far less confident that I or anyone else can accurately or even reasonably predict who will be the winners and who the losers.

In yesterday’s blog article, I argued that the increased use of AI in the workplace will be somewhat similar to the increased use of calculators in that the benefits accrued mostly to lower-skilled workers who were suddenly qualified to do a lot more work as their lack of computational skills no longer proved to be a barrier. But was that actually true? Were lower-skilled workers actually the primary beneficiaries of the introduction of calculators into the office, or did more of the benefits accrue to higher-skilled workers?

Much like calculators transformed mathematical operations and, therefore, the workplace, AI promises a similar, if not more profound, revolution in today’s working world. The power of AI is its ability to take on complex tasks that go far beyond simple automation. While there are certainly benefits to lower-skilled workers, it’s the higher-skilled workers who stand to gain the most from the AI revolution.

The Differentiating Factor: The Case of the Calculator

The introduction of the calculator was undeniably a significant milestone. By automating mathematical calculations, it enabled anyone to perform complex mathematical operations. While this opened up new opportunities for lower-skilled workers, the true potential of calculators was unlocked by those with higher mathematical skills. The calculator did not replace the need for these skills but instead augmented them.

Professionals in fields such as engineering, economics, and statistics who already had a deep understanding of mathematical concepts could leverage calculators to execute calculations more rapidly and accurately, further enhancing their productivity. So, although calculators were of benefit to lower-skilled workers, another way of looking at them was that any benefit to lower-skilled workers was more than offset by benefits to higher-skilled workers.

AI: The Augmented Intelligence

AI holds real potential in its ability to augment human intelligence, particularly for higher-skilled workers. AI can take on tasks that require complex problem-solving abilities, pattern recognition, and predictive analysis. These are capabilities that could significantly amplify the productivity of professionals such as data scientists, software developers, doctors, and engineers.

For instance, a data scientist can leverage AI algorithms to analyze vast quantities of data, identify trends, and make predictions with higher accuracy and in less time. Doctors can use AI to analyze patient data, make accurate diagnoses, and plan more effective treatment strategies. AI tools can amplify the expertise of these higher-skilled professionals, enabling them to make more informed decisions and achieve better outcomes.

As we move into a future increasingly shaped by AI, it’s crucial to recognize the potential of this technology to enhance the skills of our workforce. While one possibility is that AI will help lower-skilled workers perform their tasks more efficiently, it seems just as likely to me that it will be the higher-skilled workers who stand to gain the most from AI’s ability to augment human intelligence and push the boundaries of what’s possible.

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