AI is coming for bullsh*t jobs

by John Q on October 8, 2022

There’s been a lot of excitement about Artificial Intelligence (AI) lately, much of focused on long-standing “big questions” like “is AI really intelligent” (short answer, no)

I don’t have an answer to that, so I’ll stick to the easier questions like “will a robot take my job”. I’ve argued before that this isn’t a good way to think about the issue. New technology has been changing the way we work for centuries, and will continue to do so. But for particular jobs being transformed by technological change, it is certainly relevant.

One area that’s moved ahead very rapidly is the generation of human-like text. The cutting edge here is a program called GPT-3, launched in 2020, which can produce impressive looking philosophical discussions. The underlying research has already been commercialised with products like Jasper, which has the much more prosaic (literally!) goal of producing advertising copy, blog posts and so on.

Jasper clearly won’t pass a Turing test if you ask for anything complex, but it is very good for its intended purpose: turning out text that looks as if a human wrote it. This has big implications for a large category of jobs, notably including many that the late David Graeber called “bullsh*t jobs”.

As an example, a fair bit of the content of a typical newspaper consists of press releases that have been lightly edited and perhaps spiced up a bit. With Jasper, the time taken for this task goes from an hour or so to a few minutes. For that matter, the press release itself can be generated from a few prompts in a similarly short time.

As with previous tech advances, that’s not likely to create mass unemployment any time soon. But it will mean that this kind of routine copywriting will be done much faster, by writers who have the skills to give programs like Jasper the right prompts, and then to touch up the final output. And this will extend to lots of admin jobs that have previously been immune from technical change.

Lots of middle management jobs, for example, involve writing memos and reports justifying one corporate decision or another. After you read a few, they all seem the same. AI can distil the essence well enough to mimic the style. After that, it’s just a matter of fitting the verbiage around the desired conclusion.

Over the fold, a few examples.

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