The growing trend of artificial intelligence (AI) chatbots, especially ChatGPT, could disrupt the global job market and cause job losses in Africa’s biggest economy where unemployment rate rose to 33.3 percent in 2020, according to the latest data.
ChatGPT is a natural language processing tool driven by AI technology that allows one to have human-like conversations and much more with the chatbot. It can answer questions and assist with tasks like composing emails, essays, and code easier, faster, and more effectively.
These features pose a threat to Nigeria’s job market as the country’s inflation rate, which is at its highest level in 17 years, has made employers streamline roles in a bid to reduce costs.
Most of the jobs that will be affected by the latest wave of AI are the white-collar ones such as interpreters and translators, poets, lyricists, creative writers, public relations specialists, writers, authors, mathematicians, blockchain engineers, accountants, auditors, and journalists.
Others are legal clerks, software developers and engineers, X-ray analysts, data entry clerks, proofreaders, bookkeepers, copywriters, market research analysts, social media managers, telemarketers, virtual assistants, new reporters, travel agents, recruiters, coders, and customer service personnel.
“ChatGPT is going to disrupt jobs in Nigeria the same way it is doing in other countries, but it might be a bit slower because most Nigerian CEOs are not tech-inclined,” Kassy Olisakwe, a Lagos-based AI enthusiast and inventor, said.
He said everything and anything that requires a computer and internet to do, ChatGPT can do it. “With it, one copywriter can do the job of 10 copywriters. So, there will be no need to hire as many copywriters for your company because it is going to work as a tool at the beginning. A lot of jobs are going to be lost, especially in tech.”
Olamide Adeyeye, partnerships manager at The African Talent Company, said there is a tendency for talents to become obsolete quickly if they are not keeping pace with innovative technologies.
“Nigeria’s fragile economy is making companies manage their overhead costs (employees). So, ChatGPT creates an opportunity to streamline job roles but I don’t think it might disrupt the job market significantly,” he said.
In a recent article, Shamika Sirimanne, director of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s (UNCTAD) Division on Technology and Logistics, said tools such as ChatGPT present a real risk of skilled and semi-skilled workers losing their jobs.
“For example, chatbots can be developed to train employees in an organisation, resulting in the redundancy of human trainers. To maximise economic gains and minimise the potential negative impact on workers, policymakers need to act in the interests of all of society,” he said.
He added that those in developing countries need to step up the pace in preparation for such technologies or risk falling further behind.
Launched in November 2022 by OpenAI, an AI and research company, ChatGPT is currently open to the public free of charge. The updated version called ChatGPT+ has a paid subscription.
Although other AI tools perform similar tasks such as Eleven Labs, Google’s Bard, Dall-e, GitHub Copilot and Midjourney, ChatGPT is more affordable in terms of access to the internet and basic literacy, making it the fastest-growing app of all time, according to Swiss bank UBS.
“ChatGPT is the fastest-growing app of all time. The analysis estimates that ChatGPT had 100 million active users in January, only two months after its launch,” it said.
It found that 48 percent of companies that use the AI tool say it has already replaced workers, and there are concerns about the potential for more layoffs in the future.
According to Stacie Haller, chief career advisor at ResumeBuilder.com, the survey shows that employers are looking to streamline some job responsibilities using ChatGPT.
She said since the new technology is just ramping up in the workplace, workers need to surely be thinking of how it may affect the responsibilities of their current jobs.
Last month, Elon Musk and a group of AI experts and industry executives called for a six-month pause in developing systems more powerful than OpenAI’s GPT-4 because of the potential risks to society.
GPT-4, the latest release from OpenAI, is considered the most powerful and impressive AI model by the company. The system can pass the bar exam, solve logic puzzles, compose songs, summarise lengthy documents, and even give a recipe to use up leftovers based on a photo of your fridge. It can also spread fake news, embed dangerous ideologies, and even trick people into doing tasks on its behalf.
“Contemporary AI systems are now becoming human-competitive at general tasks, and we must ask ourselves: should we let machines flood our information channels with propaganda and untruth? Should we automate away all the jobs, including the fulfilling ones? Should we develop nonhuman minds that might eventually outnumber, outsmart, obsolete, and replace us?” the AI experts said in the letter.
Globally, AI could expose the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs to automation, according to recent research by Goldman Sachs, an American multinational investment bank.
“The good news is that worker displacement from automation has historically been offset by the creation of new jobs, and the emergence of new occupations following technological innovations accounts for the vast majority of long-run employment growth,” the bank said..
It said the combination of significant labour cost savings, new job creation, and higher productivity for non-displaced workers increases the possibility of a productivity boom that raises economic growth substantially, although the timing of such a boom is hard to predict.
Babatunde Akin-Moses, chief executive officer and co-founder at Sycamore, said ChatGPT has the potential to make routine work much more efficient and can potentially make certain types of tasks redundant. “However, those redundant tasks will likely shift to those that are more efficient generally.”
“Usually, when new technologies take away certain types of jobs, they replace them with others. So overall, it might even end up creating more jobs than it takes away (if it takes away any),” he said.
Sirimanne of UNCTAD recommends that developing countries need to prepare to benefit from AI by promoting the technology’s use, adoption, adaptation, and development.
‘First, we need to continue preparing the workforce for work in the twenty-first century. This means developing digital skills and building and strengthening complementary skills such as complex problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity,” he said.
He added that the countries need to take care of those who will lose in the transition to new forms of work. “Reskilling programs should be part of government policies and programs to address job loss due to new technologies.”