As headlines about artificial intelligence threatening job security continue to emerge, many Gen Xers are feeling a sense of unease about their future in the workforce. This emerging technology holds immense promise, but it also has the power to render some of us middle-aged workers obsolete. This prospect is particularly daunting for Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1980, who have typically reached an elevated status in their careers and hit their peak earning years, both of which are now threatened by AI.
What’s more, as we lack the same level of technological fluency as younger generations, AI can be intimidating for many of us. With our sandwich phase of life, we’re caught between caring for children and aging parents, making it difficult to find the time to retrain for new careers. And yet, AI coming for our jobs is highly inconvenient.
However, what if the reality for Gen Xers isn’t so bad? What if our jobs and our hard-earned standing will be okay, and perhaps even better than okay?
Research suggests that while some jobs will disappear, many more new and better-paying jobs will be created. Your job will be different, but that doesn’t mean it will be worse. Yossi Sheffi, an engineering professor at MIT and author of a new book on AI and the future of work, explains that ChatGPT is not going to replace us, but it is going to change our jobs, so we have to learn how to work with it.
The jobs of the future will likely involve less content generation and more quality control. AI is not infallible and requires constant monitoring. For instance, in journalism, AI can turn a transcript into a news article, but a human is still needed to provide supervision, judgment, and context. For experienced professionals in their organizations, these new responsibilities could turn out to be an excellent opportunity to thrive.
It’s up to Gen X to ensure that younger workers, not yet proficient in their jobs, don’t struggle in an AI-driven workplace. Rather than succumbing to existential dread, we need to embrace the future with curiosity and a willingness to learn. After all, the future is not something to be feared but rather something to be shaped by those who are willing to adapt.
How AI is Challenging the Assumption that Only Young People Can Keep Up
Whenever a new technology emerges, it is usually the young who benefit the most. They are thought to be more open to experimentation and risk-taking, and better equipped to adapt to change. Older and more experienced workers, on the other hand, are often pushed aside. But with the rapid evolution of AI, things are changing.
Matt Beane, an assistant professor of technology management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said that AI is advancing at such a rapid pace that economists’ predictions on how long it will take for new, general-purpose technologies to percolate no longer hold true. It’s anyone’s guess how quickly AI will permeate through society. This means that the idea that younger workers will automatically thrive in an AI-driven world is a myth.
Beane gave an example of how AI is changing the medical industry. In the past, surgical trainees would assist the senior surgeon during surgery, allowing them to develop the necessary skills to become the lead surgeon. However, with the rise of robotic surgery, trainees are left out of the equation, and the lead surgeon takes over. This dynamic is being repeated in other fields as well, Beane noted.
Despite this, experienced professionals need to learn how to use AI tools, even if it means turning to younger, more tech-savvy colleagues for help. But simply asking for help without offering anything in return can create problems. Inverted apprenticeships, in which younger workers teach their senior colleagues, may be the solution, but they must be handled with care. Otherwise, junior employees may end up feeling overwhelmed or excluded.
This is where Gen Xers come in. They can play a crucial role in ensuring that their younger colleagues have the necessary skills to succeed. Emotional intelligence is a key area where experienced workers can offer guidance, as this is a skill that robots cannot replicate. Inverted apprenticeships can be beneficial, but only if done correctly. Ultimately, the success of the AI revolution will depend on the ability of workers of all ages to adapt and collaborate effectively.