Main image of article Google CEO Sundar Pichai Talks Jobs, A.I. Future

At last week’s Google I/O conference, the search-engine giant announced it would bake artificial intelligence (A.I.) into its portfolio of products, including Google Search. It’s a tricky moment for Google, which faces increased competition from tech giants like Microsoft that are also adopting A.I.

In a new interview with The Verge, Google CEO Sundar Pichai discussed not only the challenges of his company’s platform shift, but also the larger impact of A.I. on the economy. As part of that, he delved into whether A.I. will end up automating a broad swath of human jobs, impacting employment. “Twenty years ago, when people exactly predicted what tech automation would do, there are very specific pronouncements of entire job categories which would go away,” he said. “That hasn’t fully played out.”

But Pichai is ultimately unsure of how A.I. might impact jobs. “I do think there are big societal labor market disruptions that will happen,” he added. “Governments need to be involved. There needs to be adaptations. Skilling is going to be important.”

As Pichai sees it, the current task is to maximize the technology’s benefits while mitigating its potential disruptions: “With A.I., people are more trying to think ahead than ever before, which gives me comfort because of some of the potential downsides to this technology. I think we need to think about it. We need to anticipate as early as we can.”

From a tech-industry perspective, chatbots’ increasing ability to code may change the nature of many software developer and engineer positions. “The good news is that worker displacement from automation has historically been offset by creation of new jobs, and the emergence of new occupations following technological innovations accounts for the vast majority of long-run employment growth,” mentioned a recent report by Goldman Sachs. “The combination of significant labor cost savings, new job creation, and higher productivity for non-displaced workers raises the possibility of a productivity boom that raises economic growth substantially, although the timing of such a boom is hard to predict.”

That report suggested that generative A.I. could end up automating 300 million jobs, including roughly 29 percent of computer and mathematical positions. For those tech professionals concerned about their jobs, keep in mind that chatbots can’t replicate human creativity, intuition, and people management; as we discussed during a recent episode of ‘Tech Connects,’ those who want to “future proof” their careers will want to lean into those types of skills.

There’s also a positive side to automation: by eliminating repetitive tasks, it could free up workers to be more creative. Other tech pros are increasingly focused on how to best integrate machine learning and A.I. tools into their current workflow. With A.I., the genie isn’t going back into the bottle; the goal is to adapt to it.