The impact of AI on human labour: enhancing efficiency or displacing humans?

From automating routine tasks to creating new opportunities for efficiency and productivity, AI is reshaping the world of work in profound ways.
  • AI and job displacement: the unsettling reality
  • AI in media: a new era of content creation
  • Customer service in the age of AI
  • Hollywood’s AI invasion: the rise of virtual actors
  • AI models: the future of fashion?

In an era where technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace, artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a game-changer, reshaping the landscape of labour and employment. The advent of AI has sparked a paradigm shift, with machines and algorithms increasingly taking over tasks traditionally performed by humans. This transformative technology, which once seemed confined to the realm of science fiction, is now a tangible reality, permeating every facet of our lives and work. While the fear of machines replacing human labour has been a recurring theme throughout history, from the Luddites of the Industrial Revolution to the automation anxieties of the 20th century, recent advancements in AI have rekindled these fears, but with a fresh twist. Generative AI, the latest development in this field, is not just automating manual and repetitive tasks but also creative ones, which were once the exclusive domain of humans. This article delves into the burgeoning use of AI as a substitute for human labour, exploring its implications for various sectors and the workforce at large. We will examine the types of jobs AI is replacing, the benefits and drawbacks of this trend, and how individuals and businesses can adapt to this changing landscape.

“It’s estimated that AI could automate a quarter of work tasks in the US and Europe — the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs.”

A report by investment bank Goldman Sachs

AI and job displacement: the unsettling reality

A 2023 McKinsey report paints a startling picture of the potential impact of generative AI on the workforce. The report suggests that the technology could automate between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of employee workloads, reshaping the employment landscape significantly. This is not a distant future prediction, either; it’s already happening. In May 2023 alone, AI was responsible for nearly 4,000 job cuts, according to data from Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a figure that could increase further as the adoption of AI continues to grow. However, the impact of AI on human labour will likely not be uniform across all sectors. A report by investment bank Goldman Sachs indicates that AI could automate a quarter of work tasks in the US and Europe — the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs — but the impact will vary from one sector to another. For instance, the technology could potentially automate 46 per cent of tasks in administrative and 44 per cent in legal professions. On the other hand, sectors like construction and maintenance would be less affected by this trend, with just 6 per cent and 4 per cent of tasks taken over by AI.

The rise of AI in the workplace brings with it a host of benefits. AI can increase productivity, reduce errors, and perform tasks that are dangerous or monotonous for humans. It can also lead to a productivity boom, with Goldman Sachs predicting a potential 7 per cent increase in the total annual value of goods and services produced globally. However, the increasing use of AI could also exacerbate existing inequalities. A study by the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise indicates that nearly 79 per cent of working women occupy jobs that are susceptible to automation, as opposed to 58 per cent of men. These figures raise alarming concerns about the gender-based inequity that automation could introduce in the labour market, reinforcing the need for strategic interventions to ensure fair representation and opportunity for all genders. Tech companies are already adjusting their hiring strategies in response to this trend. Arvind Krishnam, the CEO of IBM, recently revealed that the company is slowing or suspending hiring for jobs that could be done by AI, potentially affecting up to 26,000 positions. “I could easily see 30 per cent of that getting replaced by AI and automation over a five-year period”, he says. While some laud this decision as a sound strategic move in keeping with the times, others fear the profound impact it could have on employment rates and job security.

“For the first time, the machine itself is creating language. The machine has hacked our culture, our civilisation”.

Ranga Yogeshwar, an independent science journalist

AI in media: a new era of content creation

The media industry has experienced technological disruption many times before. From the advent of the printing press to the rise of the internet, each new technology has brought both challenges and opportunities. Today, AI is the latest technology reshaping the media landscape. Media houses across the globe are increasingly using AI to automate various tasks, ranging from content creation, distribution, and fact-checking to workflow automation, audience engagement, and data analysis. This has led to significant efficiency gains and cost savings, enabling media houses to deliver content more quickly and accurately. For instance, The Washington Post developed a newsroom chatbot named Heliograf, which is capable of writing news stories on topics like politics, sports, business, and many more. In fact, the chatbot proved so good at this job that it was even awarded a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the 2016 US election. Similarly, BBC employs a newsroom chatbot named Juicer to curate news stories and publish them on social media platforms.

However, the growing use of AI in media is not without controversy. This trend was recently brought into sharp focus when Europe’s largest publishing house, Axel Springer SE, announced that it would replace a range of editorial jobs, including editorial directors, page editors, proofreaders, secretaries, and photo editors, with AI. This move has sparked a debate about the role of AI in journalism and the potential implications for journalistic integrity and quality. Moreover, the rise of AI in media is also raising questions about the future of work in the media industry. As generative AI models like ChatGPT take over more and more tasks, the need for human journalists may decrease. “For the first time, the machine itself is creating language”, says Ranga Yogeshwar, one of the leading independent science journalists in Germany. “The machine has hacked our culture, our civilisation”. However, it’s also possible that AI could augment human journalists, freeing them up to focus on more complex and nuanced tasks, enhancing the overall quality of journalism. This underscores the need for journalists and other media professionals to adapt to the changing landscape and acquire new skills to work alongside AI.

AI is also changing the way news is presented to audiences, marking a significant shift in TV broadcasting and journalism. In India, the Odia-based news station Odisha TV recently introduced Lisa, the country’s first regional AI news anchor. Capable of speaking multiple languages, including Odia, English, and others, Lisa will primarily be used to host news updates, according to the station. Similarly, in Taiwan, the FTV News channel unveiled an AI weather presenter, which was used to deliver a two-minute weather forecast. Still unnamed, the virtual presenter can learn from its past broadcasts, allowing it to adjust its manner of speech, pauses, cadence, and overall presentation as the situation requires. Over in the Middle East, Kuwait News recently launched its first AI-powered news presenter named Fedha. Debuting on the media outlet’s Twitter account, the virtual anchor will be used to read online news bulletins in the future.

Customer service in the age of AI

Customer service is another area where AI is making significant inroads. Companies are increasingly turning to AI chatbots to handle customer queries and complaints, often with remarkable efficiency. The Miami-based software company Air AI is developing an AI assistant that sounds like an actual human being and is capable of handling lengthy customer service phone calls that can last up to 40 minutes. What’s more, it can work around the clock, offering a level of efficiency that no human agent can match. “It’s kind of like having 100,000 sales and customer service reps at the tap of a button”, says Caleb Maddix, co-founder of Air AI.

However, the transition to AI in customer service has not been entirely smooth. Summit Shah, the CEO of Duukan, a company that helps businesses set up online storefronts, recently reported that he laid off 90 per cent of his customer support staff after they were outperformed by an AI chatbot. According to Shah, the chatbot reduced the response time to customer queries from two hours, which is how long it takes a human agent to respond on average, to less than two minutes. While this move allegedly reduced customer support costs by a staggering 85 per cent, it also resulted in a decline in the quality of customer service, with many customers reporting that the AI chatbot failed to adequately respond to their queries, leading some of them to cancel their premium plans. 

Similarly, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) recently replaced its human-operated helpline with an AI-powered chatbot named Tessa. Developed in cooperation with two behavioural health experts, Tessa is designed to guide users through an eating disorder prevention programme step by step and point them towards educational resources available on the non-profit’s website. However, once reports surfaced that the chatbot may have provided harmful advice, it was taken down shortly after launch. This highlights the challenges of replacing human interaction with AI and underscores the need for careful implementation and ongoing evaluation of AI systems in customer service.

Hollywood’s AI invasion: the rise of virtual actors

The entertainment industry is also grappling with the rise of AI. Faced with an ongoing labour strike, which was partly caused by the introduction of AI in the movie industry, some Hollywood executives have come up with an ‘ingenious’ solution that would allow them to significantly reduce their production costs — replacing background actors with AI-generated humans. According to Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, chief negotiator for the Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), the process would involve paying an actor once to scan their body, which movie studios could then use any way they like, for as long as they need. “Studios would own that scan of their image, their likeness, and to be able to use it for the rest of eternity in any project they want with no consent and no compensation”, he explains. While the adoption of AI in filmmaking may indeed revolutionise the creative process and open up new possibilities in visual storytelling, it also sparks concerns about the future of the acting profession, particularly for actors who use these roles as stepping stones into the industry. Besides background actors, this move could also have a dramatic effect on other aspects of the movie-making process as well, including hair and makeup.

“This AI technology can potentially assist us by supplementing models and unlocking a future where we can enable customers to see our products on more models that look like themselves, creating a more personal and inclusive shopping experience”.

An official announcement posted on Levi’s website

AI models: the future of fashion?

The fashion industry is no stranger to the use of AI either. While the technology has previously been employed to analyse past and current trends and predict future ones, some brands are now starting to experiment with using generative AI to create digital models. Earlier this year, Levi’s joined forces with the Amsterdam-based startup, which uses advanced artificial intelligence to create hyper-realistic virtual models that are nearly impossible to differentiate from a living person. According to the official statement posted on Levi’s website, this new partnership will enable the brand to promote greater diversity and inclusivity and challenge harmful beauty standards. “We know our customers want to shop with models who look like them, and we believe our models should reflect our consumers, which is why we’re continuing to diversify our human models in terms of size and body type, age, and skin colour”, reads the announcement. “This AI technology can potentially assist us by supplementing models and unlocking a future where we can enable customers to see our products on more models that look like themselves, creating a more personal and inclusive shopping experience”. 

Unsurprisingly, the company received a lot of backlash because of this decision, with numerous critics suggesting that a better way to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion is to simply hire models from more diverse backgrounds. Some have also voiced concerns that the use of AI could potentially lead to job losses in the modelling industry. While Levi’s has vowed that this doesn’t mean that they would scale back on the use of live models, the fact is that virtual models are much cheaper than their human counterparts. For example, the Netherlands-based AI-powered virtual photo studio and modelling agency Deep Agency enables brands to hire virtual models for a modest monthly fee of just $29. “With traditional photography, companies need to hire models, work with third parties like model agencies, hair stylists, makeup artists — not to mention undergo reshoots, which happens on average two-to-eight times per collection”, says CEO and co-founder Michael Musandu. “So it makes it very difficult or at least unfeasible for a brand to showcase 20 different models wearing one product for every single collection without drastically having to increase the price on the product”. Whether you believe these claims or not, a growing number of fashion brands and retailers are hopping on board. Besides Levi’s,’s clients also include famous names like Adidas, Puma, Tommy Hilfiger, the German retailer Zalando, and the Dutch online retailer Wehkamp.

In closing

As we stand on the precipice of an AI-driven future, it is clear that the technology is reshaping the world of work in profound ways. From automating routine tasks to creating new opportunities for efficiency and productivity, AI is transforming industries and redefining roles. However, this transformation is not without its challenges. The potential for job displacement, particularly among certain demographics and sectors, is a pressing concern. Moreover, the ethical implications of replacing human labour with AI, especially in areas involving creativity and emotional intelligence, warrant careful consideration.

Yet, amidst these challenges, there are also opportunities. The rise of AI necessitates a shift in skills and a focus on lifelong learning. It underscores the importance of adaptability and resilience in the face of change. For businesses, it presents a chance to innovate and rethink traditional models. While AI is indeed replacing certain types of human labour, it is also augmenting human capabilities in unprecedented ways. It is a tool that, when used responsibly and ethically, can enhance our productivity, creativity, and overall quality of life.

As we navigate this AI revolution, it is crucial to remember that technology is a tool, and its impact is shaped by how we choose to use it. By embracing a future where humans and AI work together, we can harness the potential of AI while also preserving the unique qualities that make us human. In the end, the rise of AI does not signal the end of human labour. Instead, it marks the beginning of a new chapter in our collective journey, one where we must learn to adapt, innovate, and coexist with the machines we create.

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