Women are most at risk from losing their jobs to generative AI systems like ChatGPT, says a new report from the United Nations.
The report issued by the International Labour Agency, an arm of the United Nations, says that while AI will not cause massive layoffs, the cost of automation will be “brutal” among certain segments of the labor force. Chief among them are women, due to their high representation in jobs such as travel consultants, bank tellers, hotel receptionists and other clerical or administrative positions.
The Generative AI and Jobs report notes “3.7 percent of all female employment in the world is in jobs that are potentially automatable with generative AI technology compared with 1.4 percent of male employment.” That number is much higher in more developed, higher income countries where the number of adversely affected female jobs is 7.8 percent, more than double the 2.9 percent for males in that income group. The numbers suggest that a transition to AI technology may have a disproportionate gender impact. In developing countries, in particular, clerical jobs that traditionally served as a vehicle for increasing female employment may no longer be available as the use of AI increases.
The UN report also expects many existing jobs to change due to AI. “The most important impact of the technology is likely to be of augmenting work—automating some tasks within an occupation while leaving time for other duties—as opposed to fully automating occupations.” Many tasks performed by a primary school teacher like preparing lesson plans, for example, could be turned over to AI.
One caveat, however, is the report’s acknowledgement that AI evolution is a “shifting picture.” Early studies of the effect of AI on jobs focused mostly on its use as a replacement for low-skill, repetitive and routine tasks.
“The emergence of GPT reinforces this shifting picture due to its refined ability to perform cognitive tasks such as analyzed text, drafting documents and messages or searching through private repositories and the web for additional information. As a consequence, our study indicates that—at least in the short run—this new wave of automation will focus on a different group of workers, typically associated with ‘knowledge’ work.”
The UN report’s authors reference a 2023 McKinsey study that points toward “knowledge” occupations as having the highest level of exposure to generative AI automation “with a significantly higher risk of displacement.”
The future of AI isn’t yet written in stone. The report challenges business to develop effective AI development policies. “Without proper policies in place, there is a risk that only some of the well-positioned countries and market participants will be able to harness the benefits of the transition while the cost to affected workers could be brutal.”
The United Nations is taking an extraordinary interest in AI due to its global impact. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is proposing the creation of a body modeled on the International Atomic Energy Agency that would govern the use of AI. An advisory board is expected to make recommendations by the end of year.