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The artificial intelligence revolution isn’t just altering the coursework of Harvard undergraduates anymore; it is also infiltrating their future workplaces.
Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group recently conducted a joint study on consultants’ performance using ChatGPT following the AI chatbot’s explosion onto the public scene last November. What they discovered does not surprise us — that on average, generative AI provides a tangible efficiency improvement for many who use it, and will continue to do so as workers tweak the way they query tasks for the technology.
However, the opacity surrounding the future usage of AI leaves us hesitant to unambiguously celebrate these improvements. We fear that the advent of AI usage may have unexpected implications for the future of work in all fields — not just consulting.
Our concern here is twofold. For one, this new-age augmentation has already proven contentious in certain fields. Hollywood’s Writers Guild strike dragged on for months in part because strikers faced pushback against their demands to protect writers’ rights and production credit against generative AI.
Second, we fear that this trend will only intensify as time goes on. Though the writers ultimately prevailed this time around, it is hard to ignore the writing on the wall: The conflict between human creativity and artificial intelligence is an issue that will persist and evolve, with potentially disastrous effects for the workforce.
Goldman Sachs released a report in late March asserting that AI systems could threaten the equivalent of more than 300 million full-time jobs around the globe. As much as ChatGPT and similar tools might be used now to improve consultants’ performance, how can we be sure that it won’t be used to render these same performers obsolete in five years?
Predicting the future is impossible, and we cannot claim to know whether the net effect of AI will be labor-substituting or labor-complementing. But we are relatively confident that at least some workers will be adversely affected by this new technology, especially in the medium-term.
As a Board, we strongly support the protection of workers, and are concerned with the existential threat posed by continued advancements of Artificial General Intelligence as well as its current potential to harm marginalized communities. Historically, technology has systematically perpetuated inequality by increasing the productivity of skilled laborers, leaving unskilled ones in the dust — an argument recent Nobel laureate Claudia Goldin has demonstrated in her research.
Without proper employment protection, such laborers will languish. It is incumbent upon the federal government to anticipate these shifts now, before the major disruptions to labor actually start to pan out. The Trade Adjustment Assistance program currently provides employment help to those laid off as a result of increased imports; we believe a similar program of income supplementation, training, and resource provision should be established for those replaced by generative AI.
At the same time, Harvard should continue researching how to effectively tackle this crisis before it becomes irreversible, and the job market becomes flooded with laid-off workers.
As AI begins to don the clothing of consultants and a host of other professions, we must remain vigilant and compassionate, striving to balance technological progress with the protection and empowerment of the labor force.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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