- Generative AI could have the biggest workplace impacts on high earners, per a McKinsey report.
- This is because recent iterations have focused on improving cognitive skills, the analysts wrote.
- They said AI could substantially boost labor productivity but workers would need help retraining.
Generative AI could have the biggest workplace impacts on high earners, and especially people in knowledge work with activities involving decision-making and collaboration, research by consultancy giant McKinsey has found.
Because of improvements in generative AI’s ability to understand natural language and advances in technical automation potential, generative AI and other technologies have the potential to automate work activities that consume between 60% and 70% of employees’ time, McKinsey analysts wrote in the report. At some point between 2030 and 2060, half of today’s work activities could be automated, they wrote.
Generative AI creates content, which can include text, audio, images, and videos, based on a user prompt. The technology has exploded in popularity since OpenAI released its AI chatbot ChatGPT in November.
People have been using generative AI for personal, professional, and academic purposes including writing letters, drafting work emails, and summarizing research for college assignments, but some critics fear it could spread misinformation, be used for malicious purposes, and take away jobs.
Previous generations of automation technology often had the biggest mid-term impact on occupations with lower-middle wages, the McKinsey analysts wrote. Lower-wage occupations were more immune from automation because their employers paid them lower salaries in the first place. In those cases, the cost savings of automation wouldn’t be as big, whereas the skills required for higher-wage roles were harder to automate.
With recent generative AI developments, however, the focus has shifted away from automating physical work activities to cognitive tasks such as decision-making and collaboration, the McKinsey analysts wrote. “Thus, generative AI has more impact on knowledge work associated with occupations that have higher wages and educational requirements than on other types of work,” the analysts wrote.
Goldman Sachs previously said generative AI systems could impact 300 million full-time jobs worldwide, with administrative and legal roles some of the most at risk.
The McKinsey analysts said generative AI would have “a significant impact across all industry sectors,” with banking, high tech, and life sciences among the industries that could see the biggest impact as a percentage of their revenues from generative AI.
One way generative AI could help workers is by acting as a “virtual expert” who helps them quickly access internal information, the analysts wrote. One study found that when customer-service agents in the Philippines were given AI assistants, they became happier, more productive, and less likely to quit.
The McKinsey analysts said AI could substantially increase labor productivity but that workers could need help moving to different work activities or even retraining to another job. “The era of generative AI is just beginning,” they wrote.
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