Work and Machines

Our obsession with the future of work with human and machine employees.

Abstract image of a person working at a computer

Key Points:

  • Our early predictions of AI transforming work through language, reasoning, and perception advances are coming to fruition with large language models.
  • But the interplay between human and AI capabilities remains fluid and unpredictable. Tasks, not full jobs, are increasingly delegated to AI as humans adapt.
  • With cognitive tasks being outsourced to AI, human skills become central—determining which are needed and can complement AI's strengths.
  • However, opaque boundaries between AI and human expertise risk amplifying automation bias if capabilities are overestimated.
  • Workers are already independently adopting AI tools like ChatGPT for productivity gains, especially novice users. But utilizing AI well requires nuanced mastery.
  • Productivity metrics alone miss the point. Issues like demand saturation and distribution of gains matter hugely.
  • Humans and AI form a complex adaptive system. Realizing benefits depends on continuous innovation and investment, not just automation.
  • Multiple human roles exist in shaping AI's trajectory, like entrepreneurs devising novel applications. But benefits require humans to actively participate, not be pushed to the sidelines.
  • The future remains unwritten. With vision, AI integration can unlock new possibilities that amplify shared potential. But only if human ingenuity remains integral, not minimized.

Back in 2016, we published pioneering research on Machine Employees predicting AI's impact on work. We foresaw that breakthroughs in language, reasoning, and perception would bring a new era of human-machine collaboration.

Today, with large language models' impressive capabilities, that future has arrived. But clarity about automation opportunities remains elusive. It is still devilishly difficult to predict how technology will impact work. Humans still outperform machines in ambiguous and unpredictable situations but the frontiers of creativity and reasoning are highly fluid. Instead of automating full occupations, specific tasks are outsourced to AI. And humans adapt in unexpected and sometimes weird ways. 

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