The Spinning Jenny was one of the most important innovations during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. Picture this: it’s the 18th century, and you’re a weaver in England, working on a loom to spin yarn for textiles. It’s a tedious and time-consuming process, but it’s the only way to do the job. That is until one day, a revolutionary invention called the Spinning Jenny comes along.
The Spinning Jenny was a spinning frame invented by James Hargreaves in 1764. It was a game-changer for the textile industry, allowing workers to spin multiple threads simultaneously. This drastically increased productivity and reduced the need for human labour. The Spinning Jenny was a massive success and transformed the textile industry, paving the way for the Industrial Revolution.
A digital Spinning Jenny moment
Fast forward to today, and we see a similar revolution in the workplace. The release of ChatGPT and its underlying technology – GPT, will likely severely disrupt the world for office workers. Just as the Spinning Jenny increased productivity and reduced the need for human labour in the textile industry, AI technology can revolutionise how we work by automating specific tasks, freeing up time for workers to focus on higher-level tasks. However, as with the Spinning Jenny, this technological revolution raises concerns about the impact on workers, including the potential for job losses and other social and economic changes. Companies must take a responsible and ethical approach to integrate new technology into the workplace, ensuring they do not have unintended negative consequences for workers.
Generative AI algorithms have been around for quite some time. Only in the last year has it started to make a significant impact. Most people did not realise something was happening before OpenAI released ChatGPT at the end of November. Even ChatGPT, while helpful in specific applications, was still mainly fun.
GPT-4, Google Magic Wand and Microsoft Copilot announced
In the last week, three significant events related to Generative AI have occurred. On March 14, OpenAI announced and released their GPT4 algorithm, a substantial improvement on GPT3.5. Microsoft had already started to use the same technology inside its Bing search engine some time back.
Also, on March 14, Google announced their “Magic Wand“, which will provide several functions based on Google’s Large Language Model. As part of its upgrade to Google Workspace, Google will add a “Magic Wand” that will be able to summarise message threads in Gmail, create slide presentations, personalise customer outreach, and capture meeting notes.
Finally, on March 16, Microsoft took another step forward and announced its intention to use the same underlying technology to enhance its Office 365 product serial. It will affect all Microsoft office products such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook. They call the new product Microsoft 365 Copilot. Microsoft says that Copilot will not always be correct, but it can give users a head start and ideas.
Copilot is based on GPT-4 technology. It will provide natural language processing, advanced search, and more, allowing it to respond to complex user queries and provide more accurate and relevant search results. Users can summon Copilot throughout Microsoft’s Office apps to create documents, transcribe meetings, summarise email threads, and more. The assistant will initially be tested with 20 customers. Microsoft has not yet stated when it will be released or what it will cost. Microsoft says the following are examples of the capabilities it will have:
- Getting information about upcoming Microsoft Teams meetings, related projects, or organisational changes.
- It will be possible to generate AI-generated texts which the user can edit and adapt.
- In Excel, you can automatically ask it to create a SWOT analysis or a Pivot Table, saving users time. Or you can describe a complicated function in plain text.
- In Microsoft Teams, it will be possible to transcribe meetings, remind users of missed information, and summarise action items.
- In Outlook, summarise email threads, draft suggested replies, and automate repetitive tasks.
- This tool can help users unleash creativity by jump-starting the creative process, saving hours in writing, sourcing, and editing time.
- It will be possible to create a new knowledge model for organisations. Knowledge can flow freely and save time searching for answers.
Google has not been as specific as Microsoft in what their “Magic Wand” will be able to do, but we can assume they are planning similar functions. Many specialised AI-based solutions have also provided some of these functionalities over time. But until now, the impact has been limited. Bringing the technology into the core of the office suite would make the technology commonly available. The implication of this is hard to predict.
The Spinning Jenny initiated substantial social and economic shifts, encompassing job losses, as the demand for skilled labourers diminished. Similarly, AI assistants like Copilot could automate specific jobs, resulting in job losses and social and economic transformations.
The escalation in task automation could eliminate specific jobs, particularly those involving repetitive, routine tasks that can easily be automated. For instance, administrative assistants managing tasks such as scheduling meetings and overseeing emails might face the risk of job loss since AI assistants like Copilot can easily automate these tasks. This potential displacement sparks concerns among workers who fear being replaced by machines.
The repercussions might extend beyond repetitive job categories. Copywriters, for example, could experience significant disruption. AI-generated text can draft documents and emails and even develop presentations, challenging the traditional role of copywriters.
AI-generated texts need human supervision. Editing ensures accuracy, effectiveness, and brand alignment. Copywriters add a human touch to the content. They infuse creativity, originality, and a unique voice. AI systems may not replicate this. AI assistants like Copilot may alter copywriting but won’t fully replace human copywriters. Copywriters must adapt to new technologies. They must develop skills to create effective and impactful content with AI systems.
Companies must take a responsible and ethical approach to integrate AI assistants into the workplace to ensure they do not have unintended negative consequences for workers. This may include measures such as retraining programs, job guarantees, and other forms of support for workers impacted by these changes.
As Spinning Jenny was one of the most significant innovations in the first industrial revolution disrupting the world for the working class, generative AI may be a similar revolution for office workers. The new AI solutions have the potential to enhance productivity and efficiency. However, it is essential to consider the potential negative impacts on workers who may risk losing their jobs. Companies must carefully consider these technologies’ ethical and social implications and take measures to mitigate any negative consequences.