Cartoon showing a worker surfing the crest of a wave on a surfboard.
Image: © Nuthawut/

Generative AI will bring opportunities, but only if workers have skills

7 Nov 2023

Workers should not resist the wave of generative AI, argues’s Brian Sathianathan. Instead, they should learn to ride it skilfully.

Whether we like it or not, generative AI has passed the point of no return and everyone who is in education today will need to have some level of competency with the tech to keep up. According to Brian Sathianathan, co-founder of the software company, “Ignoring AI in today’s world is a bit like ignoring the internet in the early 2000s – it’s possible, but you’d be missing out on a world of opportunities.”

Generative AI tools like ChatGPT have become indispensable so fast that everyone needs to have some level of familiarity with the tech. It’s not just for the workers of the future. “Those who choose to remain oblivious to AI might find themselves at a disadvantage in the job market,” Sathianathan warns. “Many industries are integrating AI to enhance efficiency and productivity, and having AI-related skills can be a significant asset. As AI becomes more prevalent, roles that involve routine, repetitive tasks are more susceptible to automation. If you’re not equipped with skills that complement or work alongside AI, you might find your job more vulnerable to being automated.”

An opportunity, not a threat

Indeed, the threatened automation of many jobs thanks to generative AI is one of the main points of objection the tech’s detractors raise. An oft-cited report by Goldman Sachs from earlier this year posited that generative AI could lead to the replacement of around 300m jobs. But, for people like Sathianathan, automation doesn’t represent a threat, rather it presents an opportunity.

“Would you rather sit at your desk completing data management tasks manually for eight hours, or spend a couple of hours using a programme such as Excel to get the same job done with just a few mathematical formulas?” he asks. “Of course, you’ll pick the latter, but only if you have the skills to use that application. The same applies here for ChatGPT; you have to know what to feed into it in order to get what you want out of it.” Sathianathan’s use of the word ‘if’ is very important. Generative AI tools cannot fully replace the human touch because they require human intelligence to get anything effective out of them.

‘Ignoring AI in today’s world is a bit like ignoring the internet in the early 2000s – it’s possible, but you’d be missing out on a world of opportunities’

For example, ChatGPT cannot fact-check or replace creativity. Due diligence will always be needed. This means it is essential that people learn how to leverage generative AI properly and effectively so they can save time on tasks and focus on more important work, Sathianathan argues.

Use the human touch to your advantage

“Although AI tools like ChatGPT excel at generating text and executing specific tasks, they fall short when it comes to replacing human creativity and intuition. Their effectiveness hinges on the quality of the data they are trained on, and they lack the capacity for thinking outside conventional boundaries or generating innovative ideas. Furthermore, despite their ability to automate certain tasks, AI tools cannot replicate the human touch and personalised interactions often essential in various professions.”

To illustrate his point, Sathianathan lists out some of the industries people worry will become obsolete as AI advances. “In the field of writing, AI tools like ChatGPT can generate text based on specific prompts or guidelines, but they lack the ability to write a compelling story or poem that is truly original. Similarly, in the field of design, AI tools can generate designs based on specific parameters, but they cannot replace the … creativity that is often required to create truly unique and innovative designs.”

“In the field of customer service, AI tools can automate certain tasks like answering frequently asked questions or providing basic support, but they cannot replace … personalised interactions that are often essential in building trust and building relationships with customers.” Although useful for productivity purposes, AI tools are “meant to complement human abilities and enhance productivity, not substitute for them,” Sathianathan says.

If you are equipped with the skills you need to get the best out of AI, you’ll have the world at your feet. Not only can the tech augment workers’ productivity, but it is also indirectly creating a lot of new jobs. “As AI continues to evolve, we’ll see a surge in roles like AI ethicists, responsible AI developers and AI trainers,” says Sathianathan. An AI ethicist focuses on ensuring that AI systems are developed and deployed ethically, while an AI trainer works on training systems to be more accurate for specific tasks.

Rethinking education

As well as the more practical tech-orientated roles, Sathianathan points out that AI education specialists are absolutely essential when it comes to helping others understand how it works. Although staying ahead in the fast-paced world of AI is a challenge, there are a few strategies educators can adopt to keep themselves and their students in the loop, he says. “For one, we can encourage educators to participate in regular training programmes, workshops and conferences focused on AI to help them stay updated on the latest advancements and industry standards.

‘Basic AI literacy can go a long way in various fields’

“It is also important to implement professional development programmes that support educators in updating their skills. This might include sabbaticals, online courses or collaborations with tech companies.”

More interdisciplinary collaboration and joined-up thinking and planning is needed to integrate skills like AI competency into curriculums and everyday working life. Educators need to be flexible and open to looking at the world around them for new industry developments as these are important things for learners to grasp. Likewise, tech companies need to talk to educators and tell them what kinds of skills they need people to have.

Caution, but not too much caution, dude

“AI-related skills from programming to data analysis … is a growing area across most industries, offering more job opportunities and ways to advance in peoples’ respective careers. However, caution comes in when we talk about potential job displacement. Jobs that involve routine tasks might be automated, and that’s where the need for upskilling becomes critical. It’s less about resisting the wave of AI and more about riding it skilfully. So, in short, it’s a blessing if you ride the wave and adapt, but a bit of caution is warranted to navigate the changes it brings.”

All that said, for many people – especially non-tech workers – “learning about AI doesn’t necessarily mean becoming an AI expert,” says Sathianathan. “Basic AI literacy can go a long way in various fields. It’s not just about staying competitive; it’s about staying relevant in a tech-driven world.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea joined Silicon Republic in 2021 as Careers reporter, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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