Long a futuristic aspiration, artificial intelligence has swept into human life and work at breakneck speed, making rapid gains in accuracy and efficacy, generating excitement and redefining what’s possible while producing significant anxiety about job security and the future of work.
Zack Kass, a tech futurist who has advised major companies and governments and served as head of go-to-market at ChatGPT parent OpenAI, says we’re just scratching the surface of AI’s capabilities, and the rapid advances we’ve seen will likely continue. Still, we shouldn’t be afraid of a future in which AI is ubiquitous. Jobs will change significantly, Kass says, conceding that will be difficult for many people, but work will be improved in the long run.
“The nature of work and the definition of work is going to change, and my advice to most people is to not anchor their identities to their jobs,” Kass said. “I don’t think that we’re going to see net job reduction. More likely, what we’re going to see is a new type of job emerge, and I don’t know what exactly it will be like, but I think it will be far more human in many respects and far less computational.”
The end of “busy work”?
A wide range of so-called busy work, which most people do not enjoy but are a part of nearly every job, could disappear in the coming years with the advancement and adoption of AI, Kass says. According to Kass, most of the computation in our lives is likely to be surrendered to computers in the same way that calculations were long ago surrendered to calculators and data storage surrendered to Excel sheets.
AI is already a part of our everyday lives, Kass says, pointing out its use in the autocomplete feature in your email and text messaging. Researchers have been developing AI models for decades, and industries have used AI and machine learning for years to optimize their operations. Still, more recently, the public launch of ChatGPT brought AI that was tangible and easy to understand.
ChatGPT and other generative AI tools have allowed users to refine thoughts and ideas, pull out the critical points from more extensive texts, rewrite text to a desired length or style and perform many other language-based tasks. It’s quickly become a helpful tool for so-called knowledge workers. Kass uses it as “this brilliant person” to bounce ideas off.
“It lacks a fair amount of context, but it has really thoughtful answers,” Kass said. “I use that and other products to produce a lot of different content and to craft a lot of ideas.”
How AI can make work more human
Soon, we will let AI do much more, Kass said, and if appropriately implemented, “everything we do should become more human.”
“Which is to say, I think in 10-20 years, humans will be doing a lot less computation, or basically no computation, and a lot more loving, emphasizing, feeling, emoting,” Kass said.
When asked what students should study in college to prepare for a future with AI, Kass tells people what they study will matter much less than how they learn and what they learn.
“If you can impart anything to your kids right now, it’s about imparting vision and courage and love,” Kass said. “It’s the things that are innately human that define the human condition, and that separates us, and will separate us for a long time, from computers.”
Kass, who has been at the intersection of AI and business for more than a decade, says the technology will only become more valuable and omnipresent from here.
“Everyone’s assumption should be that AI is going to get more performant and more capable, meaning it’s going to be able to do more things,” Kass said. “Today, it can write and read and draw. In the future, it will be able to smell and touch and develop more human senses. And it will get better at all the things that it does today.”
AI’s rapid improvement has led many in the industry to try to determine where or when the upgrades start to slow or plateau. Kass said it’s pretty clear that it won’t happen anytime soon.
“We’re actually still early on the parabola,” he said. “And given that, everyone should expect the next wave of technology to be just as impressive relative to the last wave. We’re not near some peak.”
AI will become embedded in our work
According to Kass, among the most exciting aspects of the future of AI is when the various models combine into a single, multimodal model. Likely, future models wouldn’t require humans to go to one entity for text generation, another for image generation, another for speech and so on, but combine all those facets into a single model.
“Theoretically, you’re going to be able to talk to the next model, and it will talk back and draw things for you,” Kass said. “It’ll behave much like a human might behave.”
Once the models amalgamate, Kass said we should assume AI will be embedded into our operating systems and applications. At that point, we will no longer think of it as “using AI” but instead using the same native applications that we’ve come to know, which will have AI running in the background.
“I think that it is probably a three- to five-year journey maybe,” Kass said. “I don’t think it’s that far off where you don’t have to opt in. You don’t have to do anything specific. It just starts running in the background. And in that, I think it becomes truly omnipresent, truly ubiquitous.”
Beyond that, Kass said the next step in the AI journey will be artificial general intelligence. Theoretically, models could be developing novel scientific breakthroughs on their own. That may seem like a scary prospect to some, but Kass is an unwavering optimist in AI. Kass believes that optimism is essential to balance the fear and anxiety associated with AI and ensure the technology’s promise is not squandered or regulated out of existence. He pointed to gene editing technology CRISPR and nuclear energy as technologies that have not lived up to their potential due to human anxieties and perceived dangers.
“We don’t have abundant energy today because nuclear became really unpopular,” Kass said. “When Chernobyl and Three Mile Island happened, people just said, ‘Shut it all down.’ And then we spent the last 30 years just burning trillions of tons of coal. Nuclear is a great example to me of what happens when you invent a technology but fair to harness it.”
Should your company embrace AI?
Regarding getting started with AI yourself or at your company, Kass said it’s difficult to convince most people that ChatGPT and similar tools in the market are sufficient to help change the course of your business.
“At a small to medium business level, that will be sufficient for a lot of people,” Kass said. “So start there.”
The next step companies should take is to speak with their technology vendors to understand how they’re integrating AI into their products. Kass said it’s important to know what technology vendors are building and how your company may change based on their incorporation of AI. Software vendors are racing to adopt the technology, and Kass said it’s no longer acceptable to have antiquated technology partners.
For the largest firms, it may be prudent to build proprietary AI systems using existing application programming interfaces or APIs. Kass doesn’t recommend it for most companies, but for some Fortune 5,000 firms, it may be a reasonable approach.
“It should be reserved for companies whose problems are so unique and whose market differentiation is sort of imperative on an in-house solution, and that have the means and resources to build something themselves,” Kass said. “And in that Venn diagram, there just aren’t that many companies. For a lot of companies, they will stay ahead of the curve simply by adopting the tools that exist today and by challenging and pushing their vendors and doing proper vendor selection.”
Matthew Reitz is a business services editor at SmartBrief.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.