The government must act to bring artificial intelligence (AI) into workplaces “like a freight train”, the boss of a leading UK energy company has told Sky News.
Greg Jackson, founder of Octopus, said the adoption of AI across industries would eventually improve workplaces and create new roles, but the astonishing pace of development meant millions of jobs could be at risk in the short term.
Octopus has already reaped huge benefits from adopting generative AI in its customer service operations, with 44% of customer emails being answered, at least in part, by AI just seven weeks after its launch.
Human staff will still manage and check all the AI’s output, which Mr Jackson said would not result in the loss of any jobs at Octopus.
However, he warned that the technology posed a threat to the jobs of companies seeking to cut costs, and that businesses, regulators and politicians needed to prepare for a rapid transition.
“Around the world, governments are quick to start thinking about what they have to do, but we don’t have time to wait and see,” he said. “If a freight train is coming, you don’t wait until you feel it’s been hit before getting out of the way.
“In growth companies, in companies that expand and innovate in new areas, AI allows us to do it faster, better for our customers and, in our case, hopefully better for the planet.
“But I think it could be a cost-cutting exercise for companies that aren’t growing and don’t have the same opportunity to expand into new areas, where the threat to jobs is very real.”
“Now that we can see some of the impacts of that, I think responsible companies should start this kind of discussion so we can help the government think about how to deal with it. I think it’s this economic disruption and job risk that we need to think about first. “
Mr Jackson’s warning comes as BT announces it will Replace approximately 10,000 workers with advanced artificial intelligence Over the next seven years, making it the largest UK company to directly link new technologies to job losses.
The debate around AI has gained urgency in recent months as new generative AI models emerge Chat GPT and Midjourney, which can generate complex written content and images based on a few textual cues.
The advances surprised even developers, raising the prospect of a true industrial revolution in white-collar work, with promises of increased productivity and fears of mass job losses.
While it’s unclear where the balance of hope and pain will ultimately fall, companies are accelerating their use of the technology.
Allen & Overy, one of the “magic circle” of major London law firms, began trialing a bespoke AI tool called Harvey last November and it is now being used by 3,500 lawyers in 43 jurisdictions.
Lawyers use it to generate draft documents or review legal fields, then check and refine them before use, gaining an hour or two of productivity per week per person.
“It saves large organizations thousands of hours,” said David Wakeling, project leader at Allen LLP.
“It’s a tedious productivity boost, really, an hour or two a week, but when you multiply that by three and a half thousand, it’s a big deal for the business. It’s impossible to get that productivity with a single deployment lift or a system.”
He said the technology’s capabilities continue to amaze employees but pose no threat to human workers.
“We think it’s augmenting our lawyers, not replacing them … It’s a fantastic productivity gain, some efficiency savings, but the technology I’m seeing today, I know people are talking about that [job losses] All the time, but we’re using cutting-edge technology, and we don’t see the impact today.
“We underestimated its capabilities all the time. Someone would email and say, I just got the most amazing answer, or I just found this use case, and it still happens quite often.
“It’s still limited, it still has the risk of error, we still have to focus on making sure it’s deployed safely, and people understand that you need experts in the loop. But fundamentally, it’s an amazing machine, it’s Always surprises”
Pay attention to workers’ rights
As employers look to opportunities in AI, unions worry it could erode workers’ rights and call for greater regulation.
The government wants the UK to be a world leader in AI, saying in a recent white paper No legislation to deal with artificial intelligencepreferring to allow existing regulators to work with companies to develop appropriate rules.
The TUC said workers were already underrepresented in the rollout of new technologies and called for legislation to protect humans from being hired and fired by algorithms.
“Our research has found that, unfortunately, there is very little consultation at work when it comes to introducing new technology, and in fact, sometimes the technology is running and decisions are being made by people who don’t even know it’s happening,” says Mary TUC’s leadership in AI, Toles said.
“We say that instead of regulating at a time when it is most needed, when technology is moving so fast and its impacts are so significant, governments are making flimsy and vague recommendations without any statutory basis.
“Everyone has the potential to benefit from innovation and the development of AI technology, but the key question is, are there many different voices represented at the stage of technology development?”