Any discussion on the impact of generative AI usually comes with a debate about the potential loss of jobs.
But while some estimates suggest AI could lead to the automation of more than 25% of jobs, the research also suggests that fast-emerging technologies could lead to new opportunities for employees.
Four business leaders talk about how they think generative AI will help change the workplace for the better.
1. It can do things we find boring
Alex Hibbitt, engineering director at albelli-Photobox Group, says his positive perceptions about generative AI are closely related to the impact of emerging technology in site-reliability engineering.
"If we look at the machine learning and AI pieces that Amazon as a platform has added over the years, it's made my job a lot easier," he says.
He gives an example: Hibbitt's team traditionally had to manually manage auto scaling, which is a method for dynamically adjusting the resources used in cloud computing.
Today, he says AWS Auto Scaling monitors applications and automatically adjusts capacity to provide predictable performance: "Automation made that activity so much easier."
Hibbitt says the key thing for professionals to recognize is that humans are bad at doing boring tasks. AI, on the other hand, excels when asked to do repetitive work.
"That's where I think the value will come from within the software-engineering community," he says. "Generative AI can help with the grunt work that we hate doing, but we need to do as part of the job."
Of course, these are early days for AI. So, what happens when generative AI broadens its capabilities and gets a taste for the more creative areas of work? The answer, says Hibbitt, is still a long way in the future.
"Whether AI can ever replace humans, it's hard to know -- getting all that context and being able to focus it down is a hard thing to do. I don't think AI is there for that piece of work yet. So, I wouldn't, as an engineer, fear that my job is going to be shipped off to AI."
2. It creates a pathway to productivity
Robyn Furby, technology adoption manager at NFU Mutual, says there's a wide spectrum of perceptions about the introduction of generative AI.
"You've got the full adoption curve," she says. "You've got people who are excited, you've got people who are nervous, and you've got people who don't even understand what it is."
For those who are still unsure about the benefits of generative AI, Furby says there's reason for optimism.
Yes, the fast-emerging technology could replace some workplace activities, but it's up to us to make sure its exploitation is focused on removing repetitive tasks, such as scanning spreadsheets for data-entry errors.
"I think we should be excited because it has potential to allow us to do more of the high-value things in our work, and less of the stuff that doesn't need valuable thought processes," she says.
Furby says it's important to recognize that the introduction of generative AI should not be seen as an endpoint, but as a pathway to increased productivity.
"Don't get it to write your emails, proposals or blog posts. Get it to give you some information and help your own creative process to get started. If you use generative AI in that way, it boosts your productivity rather than replacing you."
3. It provides time for interesting activities
Simon Langthorne, head of customer relationship management at Virgin Atlantic, says the airline is currently beta testing Adobe's AI-based product Firefly, which could help staff create personalized content for customers quickly and effectively.
These early forays into generative AI have left him feeling positive: "I think it's more excitement than worrying about the impact of AI, to be honest."
Langthorne's positivity is connected to the sense of opportunity. He says every business faces constraints in terms of human resources, time, and budgets.
AI's ability to pick up large chunks of the work associated with everyday activities could free up internal staff to focus on more innovative and interesting projects.
"I think that's always a challenge in terms of how you become more efficient in the things that you can do, and how you can approach more topics and scale at speed. And I think that's where the excitement is – generative AI could help us."
For all his enthusiasm for emerging technology, Langthorne doesn't want to dismiss the concerns of people who are worried about the rise of generative systems, such as ChatGPT.
"Could AI create efficiencies that lead to people's jobs being lost? I can understand that it's a concern, but I look at it more from the opportunity side in terms of how much we can do from a business perspective as individuals and collectively as teams."
4. It opens up new areas of innovation
Like some of his digital leadership peers, Wulstan Reeve, head of data marketplace at Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), says generative AI will commoditize workplace activities that currently consume time and money.
Reeve suggests many of these tasks could be completed incredibly cheaply with the assistance of emerging technology in the not-too-distant future.
Yet he says a boost to existing work processes is not the only potential gain: "I think it will open up brand-new things that, actually, we couldn't really do before."
Reeve says LGIM is already conducting experiments into the use of AI within the business.
However, the finance firm and its staff must proceed carefully when it comes to emerging technology because of the regulation-heavy nature of the finance sector.
"The variety of use cases that can leverage generative AI is enormous. I don't think we societally have really got to grips with just how big it could be," he says.
"I think its use case could be widened. ChatGPT won't be the last of these evolutions, and there'll be some rapid, hot-on-the-heels-type developments that we'll see. But I do think the use of generative AI is going to be totally game-changing."
Reeve says it's the duty of all professionals to pay attention to these ongoing developments, but this interest must take place alongside a consideration of how new systems can be used and exploited in an ethical manner.
"I think looking at generative AI across all the spectrum of value levers will be interesting," he says. "But doing it considerately from all the different dimensions in terms of society will be crucial, too."