Will AI Steal Your Job, or Just Your Job Description?

TL;DR: Will the story of AI have a happy ending or the other kind? None of us really knows.

  • But that shouldn’t stop us from taking a hard look at how the AI revolution will likely impact your work, your job, the description of that job as well as your overall career arc.
  • Get in the game now – don’t wait for Apple to turn AI into an appliance.
  • Get great at things that AI will NEVER be able to do well.

The 30,000-foot view from a career headhunter

At last, here we are – AI has officially taken over as the hottest topic of conversation among pretty much everyone I know, including small children and most pets. This moment already feels like science fiction. And the future we’re all about to experience will too, even more so.

But does our story have a happy ending or the other kind? Will an AI-wielding Dr. Evil and his cohort of nefarious dark web hackers destroy all humanity? Will the deadly cocktail of high-proof consumerism mixed with overreliance on technologies like AI and robotics turn us puny humans into senseless, sedentary robots who really don’t give a damn about anything but themselves, like in Disney’s Wall-e? Or is Marc Andreessen right in suggesting that AI will save the world?

All great questions. Spoiler alert: even as a guy who’s been following AI since the 80s, I do not know. None of us knows, really. But this isn’t the first tech wave that hits like a tsunami – you’ve seen this same dynamic before with hardware, the internet, mobile, Cloud and SaaS. I’ve had the good fortune to help literally thousands of execs successfully navigate these sea changes, and there are definite patterns we should all recognize. In every case, the leaders who survived and thrived all embraced a very similar game plan:

  • Jump in head-first
  • Figure out how this latest thing impacts your specific industry
  • Upskill in the new tech
  • Learn how to use it as a weapon within your own field

One of our recent Thursday Nights Salons brought together a who’s-who of industry leaders in security, marketing, healthcare, finance and more. The evening’s topic was specifically the future of AI. There was a lot of brilliance on tap that night, lots of different views, but everyone seemed to agree on these core concepts.

Having brilliant friends is a superpower.

I tell folks that our network is the biggest value JJA brings to just about anything. So we’ve been talking to some of the smartest folks we know in order to bring you their unique perspectives on the AI tsunami.

One of those people is Oded Noy. A self-described geek since early childhood, Oded started his career as an Israeli Air Force pilot. From there, he went on to a wildly successful career as a CTO. Turns out he had a knack for taking startup founders’ ideas into sustainable, monetizable reality. This led to a 10-year stint as an Operating Partner in private equity, where he specialized in buying, fixing, augmenting and selling late-stage tech companies. He is a genuine tech pioneer. And Oded’s thoughts align closely with the Thursday Nights attendees.

Through it all, a central pillar of Oded’s philosophy has been that technology companies aren’t really about the technology. Rather, it’s all about people. The team’s collective curiosity. Their teamwork. The company culture. I happen to agree.

So with that thought in mind, let’s look at some key takeaways that apply to most of us regardless of how we interact with the big-tech ecosystem.

1. Don’t wait – jump in

It’s not as if AI just became a thing last year. AI has actually been around in some crude form for over 75 years. It’s been more than 30 years since fearsome Russian chess champion Gary Kasparov was famously bested by a computer known as Deep Blue. A more evolved system called Watson beat a handful of Jeopardy champions a decade ago. And the machines were just getting warmed up.

Now that we’ve reached the point where a new AI tool can attract hundreds of millions of users in a matter of weeks, it’s time for all of us to find a way to get on board. Sure, they’ll keep getting better, but they’re good enough. Whether it’s Chat GPT, Google Bard, Dall-E or stable diffusion, start playing around with prompts.

As Oded reminded me, “Your kids are already doing it, and so are your employees – especially the youngest and the most curious. If you don’t do it, you’re going to be left behind.” Knowing how to interact with these things and how prompts work is part of the new reality, whether you were hoping for a new reality or not.

“Your kids are already doing it, and so are your employees – especially the youngest and the most curious. If you don’t do it, you’re going to be left behind.” -Oded Noy

Oded continues, “Research done by the University of Pennsylvania was released at the end of March. Their model,  which you can believe or not, somehow sounds believable to me. So I’m going to quote it. 80% of people are going to see 10% change in the tasks they perform in the next five years if you only include the large language model itself. But now comes the punchline. If you look at all of the applications that will be created, on top of that, 19% of the workforce will see 50% change in the tasks they perform. That’s why I said it might not change your job, but it will change your job description.”

Yes, it’s inevitable. Embrace it now. Lean in. Get moving.

2. Get comfortable with an uncomfortable pace of change

We’re in a very different place than even our most forward-thinking scientists dreamed possible just a few short years ago. A perfect storm of Google geniuses, unbelievably powerful computational machines called “compute,” and almost infinitely large data sets have enabled a level of deep learning that literally allows the machines to teach themselves.

For example, before anybody taught browser-based translators Portuguese, they actually managed to teach themselves. Think about that.

And because AI has reached the point where it’s continually making itself better and faster, the rate of increase itself will continue to snowball at a mind-blowing pace. The thing is, humans, aren’t built to wrap their tiny little brains around this kind of acceleration. But that’s what’s going on here.

As Oded explains, “What is happening now with these large language models and Transformers is all of the research across all of these dimensions are all beating to one drum on top of the same model. So they’re all improving simultaneously because everything one does affects the others. And that’s partially why you see the acceleration.

“In the past, if you wanted to train a model, you needed millions and billions of examples. These large language models are so good at learning that you only need a few thousand to train them to do something new with a new objective function. That means you can train it to do all kinds of dedicated things that really drive transformative changes within the industry. 47% to 56% of tasks are going to become faster, and they’re going to be aided by these applications because you need very little data to train them to learn something new.”

3. Use AI to get better at being human

My conversations with Oded and many others led me to conclude that humans should develop and be differentiated by things that AI can’t and will likely never do as well as us primates. This should become the true North compass for your career. Short answer: get really good at reasoning, leadership, governance fairness and ethics. Lean into things that AI can’t compete with, like EQ.

At the same time, look to AI to make yourself a higher performer at whatever you’re doing – that’s where this new technology really shines.

At JJA, we’re obsessed with performance. Placing top performers in positions where they can thrive is what we do. So we understand that exceptional leaders are always looking for any extra edge to enhance their performance.

Here are a few quick data points to give you a sense of how much impact AI is already having within the software industry:

  • In a recent PE Hub interview, Bain Capital Tech Opportunities partner Darren Abrahamson shared that “nearly every company” in the firm’s portfolio has incorporated GenAI tools into their engineering teams, leading to productivity gains of 30-40% in many cases.
  • Microsoft reports that nearly 48% of code being contributed to GitHub in the past month was generated in some way or supported by Artificial Intelligence.
  • CEO Satya Nadella recently told Time that developers who are using GitHub Copilot are at least 50% more productive, staying more in the flow.
  • A Microsoft study stated that 31% of business leaders said they saw increasing employee productivity as the thing they’d value most about AI in the workplace. 29% mentioned helping employees with necessary but repetitive tasks, while 25% mentioned eliminating employee time spent on low-value activities.
  • IBM CEO Arvind Krishna said the company plans to pause hiring for roles that AI can reasonably do. Positions in human resources, or jobs that aren’t customer-facing, will be on the chopping block. That means 26,000 jobs – just at IBM – could soon be partially or entirely replaced by AI. The company and its subsidiary Red Hat have laid off around 4,660 people already in 2023.
  • Consulting firm Accenture just announced that it will invest $3 billion into its AI and data practice over three years. This comes just months after Accenture announced it will lay off 19,000 workers.

No, you don’t have to become an AI engineer to keep up with AI in healthcare, marketing or finance, any more than you needed to be a circuit designer or full-stack engineer to ride any of the previous tech waves. But you do need to lean in – part of your job, right now, is to help bridge the gap between where your field is today and where it’s inevitably going.

4. Remain cautiously optimistic

As with any transformative technology, there are serious, far-reaching issues – even dangers – around AI. The current lack of regulation is likely the most pressing. Without a doubt, humanity needs to come together and legislate guardrails. Deep fakes are already presenting difficult and dangerous challenges.

But as we watch the most impactful tech advance in our lifetimes unfold all around us, remember that AI also offers unlimited potential for good – better, more equitable/accessible healthcare. Faster drug development. The ability to address our planet’s most pressing problems more effectively than ever before.

Would you prefer to consult a doctor who has seen 1,000 patients, with maybe two or three of them sharing nearly your exact genomics, or a doctor who has experience with 100,000 patients, where 1,000 share close similarities with you? That’s the power of AI.

Thanks to superhuman pattern recognition, emerging technology is also beginning to outshine a clinician’s ability to detect and interpret subtle anomalies in tests like X-rays and mammograms. If you’re going to take away one important point from all this, here you go: this doesn’t mean that doctors will no longer have jobs. But they have the potential to help more patients more effectively over greater distances. The job description itself will change – profoundly in many cases.

How effectively we harness all this power as a force for good remains to be seen. But we still have the opportunity to approach this field with optimism, grace and, above all, humanity.

Oded sums it up nicely: “We created something incredibly powerful that can do a lot of things, which means that the problems it will bring will be bigger problems. And the only way to solve the problem is to be optimistic that there is a solution and then go find it.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself.


Hey – my name may be on the byline, but the ideas I share are always the product of a team effort. JJA is on a mission to raise the bar in high-stakes recruitment, from retained searches to corporate talent acquisition. We approach life like an open-source project, driven by the belief that there’s always a better way. Sign up for our free newsletter The Executive Summary on our LinkedIn page.

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