Automation of Select Tasks, Not Whole Professions
Generative AI will likely automate specific tasks within jobs rather than replace entire professions outright. As the recent UN study revealed, most occupations only have a portion of duties susceptible to automation by AI. This means the technology will serve more as an augmenting force, taking over routine clerical or data functions and freeing up humans to focus on higher-level responsibilities requiring judgment, empathy, and creativity. While automation can boost efficiency and productivity, the human touch remains essential in most fields. With the right policies in place, humans and AI can work together to reshape jobs, not eliminate them entirely.
Clerical Work Most Exposed, But With Nuance
Clerical work does appear most vulnerable, with the UN study estimating 25% of tasks as highly automatable. However, the impact will not be black-and-white. While AI excels at structured data tasks like processing forms or invoices, it still struggles with ambiguity. As Anthropic AI researcher Dario Amodei noted, "AI systems don't deal well with situations they haven't seen before." So while routine administrative work will evolve, roles requiring complex communication skills and emotional intelligence will retain their human element. There are also equity concerns, as women disproportionately fill these clerical roles, especially in richer nations. Policymakers must consider these nuances carefully.
Brutal Transitions Possible Without Proactive Policies
The UN study issues an important warning—while AI will likely augment more work than replace it outright, the transition could still be "brutal" for affected workers without proactive policies. As we saw in previous technological revolutions, transitions can mean prolonged unemployment and financial hardship for displaced workers. This time, policymakers have the benefit of seeing change coming and can implement programs to ease the transition through retraining initiatives and portable benefits untethered to specific employers. While technological change is inevitable, how we support workers through its impact is a policy choice. With smart, empathetic policies, we can ensure the AI revolution brings out the best in humanity.