The boom in “generative” artificial intelligence may usher in the “next productivity frontier” in the workplace, but it could also cause job losses and disruption for some knowledge-based workers such as software developers and marketers, according to McKinsey. 

Integrating generative AI tools into the workplace could theoretically automate as much as 70% of the time an employee spends completing tasks on the job, the consulting firm estimated. That could help many workers save time on routine tasks, which in turn will boost profitability for businesses, McKinsey said in a recent report.

For the U.S. economy as a whole, meanwhile, the gains could be considerable, adding $4.4 trillion annually to the nation’s GDP.

But such productivity gains could come with a downside, as some companies may decide to cut jobs since workers won’t need as many hours to complete their tasks. Most at risk from advanced forms of AI are knowledge-based workers, who tend to be employed in jobs that traditionally have had higher wages and more job security than blue-collar workers. 

As a result, most knowledge workers will be changing what they do over time, McKinsey Global Partner Michael Chui told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Generative AI will “give us superpowers” by allowing workers to be more productive, but employees will need to adapt, Chui said. This “will require reskilling, flexibility and learning how to learn new things.” 

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AI could replace half of workers’ daily work activities by 2045, which McKinsey said is eight years earlier than it had previously forecast. 

Where AI will thrive

To be sure, AI won’t transform every job, and it could impact some corporate fields more than others. At the top of the list are software development, customer service operations and marketing, according to Rodney Zemmel, a senior partner at McKinsey. 

Software engineering teams are likely to rely on generative AI to reduce the time they spend generating code. Already, big tech firms are selling AI tools for software engineering, which is being used by 20 million coders, the firm found.

Customer service operations could also undergo a transformation, with AI-powered chatbots creating quick, personalized responses to complex customer questions. Because generative AI can quickly retrieve data for a specific customer, it can reduce the time human sales representatives need to respond. 

Marketers also could tap AI to help with creating content and assist in interpreting data and with search engine optimization. 

Workers who are concerned about their jobs should stay on top of emerging technologies like generative AI and understand its place in their respective fields,the McKinsey experts recommended. 

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“Be on the early edge of adoption” to stay ahead in the job market, Zemmel advised. 


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Still, most jobs won’t be transformed overnight, Zemmel said.

“It’s worth remembering in customer service and marketing just how early this technology is and how much work needs to be put in to get it to work safely, reliably, at scale, and the way that most human professional enterprises are going to want to use it,” he noted. 

Examining past technological advances provides a hint of how AI is likely to impact workers.

“How many jobs were lost when Google came out?” Zemmel asked. “I’m sure the answer wasn’t zero, but companies didn’t dramatically restructure because of all the work that was no longer needed in document retrieval.”

Zemmel said that when he asks corporate managers how they use AI technologies, the common answer is “writing birthday poems and toasts.” So AI “still has a way to go before it’s really transforming businesses,” he added.


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