A.I. will probably not steal your job—except if you’re doing that one. While white-collar jobs as we know them are hardly set to disappear, a handful of them will “dwindle hugely,” according to Joseph Fuller, a professor of management at Harvard Business School. And Fuller should know: Before Harvard, he spent three decades heading a consulting firm focused on corporate strategy and competitiveness that was ultimately acquired by Deloitte. At HBS, he co-leads the Managing the Future of Work initiative, which researches the shifting global product and labor markets, evolving regulations, and the gig economy. There’s one type of job he wouldn’t want right now.
“I wouldn’t want to be someone who does the reading or summarization of business books to send out 20-page summaries, because A.I. is really good at summarization already,” Fuller told Fortune.
A.I. has already become a powerhouse across sectors and disciples—some say it’s moving faster than real life. Just last year, OpenAI unveiled the now-ubiquitous ChatGPT, and Google launched DeepMind, which went on to predict the structure of nearly every protein in the human body.
Back at the office, the next phase of work is taking material shape, particularly as generative A.I. becomes a cornerstone of modern business. Fuller predicts that “a significant chunk of what people do today will go away,” although he adds that “a material amount of work” will remain.
As A.I. goes multimodal—able to draw on pictorial, audio, and alphanumeric data to carry out processes—our current iteration of ChatGPT could soon seem quaint. That’s where the trouble for workers whose jobs are easy to automate might really kick in. That doesn’t catch workers entirely by surprise; 40% of them who are familiar with ChatGPT are concerned it will replace their jobs completely, per a March 2023 Harris poll.
Yet many experts, including Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella, whose company invested heavily in OpenAI, insist that A.I. is no threat to human ingenuity and creativity. When executed correctly, A.I. in the workplace doesn’t threaten real jobs, Nadella said; it just eliminates the “drudgery.”
Indeed, A.I. is very effective in making real people more productive, Fuller says—for better or worse.
Out with the rote, in with the creative
Routine contract lawyers—those who write out standard submissions—will be the first to see their jobs go, Fuller anticipates. Other workers in jobs with similarly rote duties will follow in short order. “There will be open-source data that will knock out 90% of their billable hours,” he says.
Luckily, that’s probably just a few people’s idea of a dream job. “The future of white-collar work looks a lot less dull, a lot less routine, and [has] a lot less filling out of expense resorts or quarterly forecast updates,” Fuller says. Business intelligence systems will gobble up most of the boring stuff.
What’s left for humans? Judgment, motivation, collaboration, and articulating a vision, even a vision for what A.I. itself can do next. Luckily for most workers, that’s what bosses want and need most. The World Economic Forum’s 2023 Future of Jobs report found that four of the top five skills employers are going to demand in the next five years are creative thinking, analytical thinking, curiosity and lifelong learning, and resilience/flexibility/agility.
“That sounds like the fun part of work to me,” Fuller says. “And much harder to automate.”