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Sunday, Feb 25, 2024


The Double-Edged Sword of AI: AI is linked to layoffs in industry that created it

As Silicon Valley Nurtures AI Evolution, Its Own Workforce Grapples with Emerging Realities of Job Displacements and Skills Transformation? Many have raised alarms about the potential for artificial intelligence to displace jobs in the years ahead, but it’s already causing upheaval in one industry where workers once seemed invincible: tech.
Silicon Valley, the cradle of technological innovation, is now confronting a paradox as the artificial intelligence (AI) it has helped cultivate begins to make inroads into its workforce. Recent layoffs and hiring freezes indicate a small yet escalating trend in the tech industry, where the creators of AI technologies are ironically becoming the first ones to experience the tremors of AI-led workforce realignment.

Education technology company Chegg recently disclosed in a regulatory filing that it is reducing its workforce by 4%, amounting to around 80 employees. The move is aimed at better positioning the company to execute its AI strategy and “create long-term, sustainable value for its students and investors.”

IBM’s CEO, Arvind Krishna, conveyed mixed sentiments in interviews with Bloomberg and Barrons regarding the impact of AI on hiring. Initially, he indicated that IBM is likely to halt hiring for roles that could be overtaken by AI. However, he later clarified that AI would ultimately create more jobs than it replaces.

Dropbox also cited AI in its decision to lay off approximately 16% of its workforce. Dropbox CEO Drew Houston, in a note to the staff, emphasized the need for a diverse skill set mix, particularly in AI and early-stage product development, to catalyze the company's next phase of growth.

The outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas revealed that 3,900 people in the tech sector were laid off in May due to AI - the first time the firm has specifically attributed job cuts to AI.

While the shadow of AI looms large, experts opine that it doesn’t necessarily spell doomsday for human employment. Dan Wang, a professor at Columbia Business School, believes AI enhances human work. The real paradigm shift, he contends, is that human experts will be replaced by those who can harness the power of AI tools.

In the face of these developments, the tech industry remains voracious for AI talent and innovation. Microsoft and Meta (formerly Facebook) are prime examples, as they have announced substantial layoffs but are concurrently making multibillion-dollar investments in AI.

Even the once seemingly impregnable bastion of software engineering is not immune. Roger Lee, a startup founder and industry analyst, has coined the term “AI premium” to describe the 12% higher average salary commanded by senior software engineers specializing in AI or machine learning compared to their counterparts. This indicates a growing demand for AI expertise in the tech industry.

Furthermore, Dropbox’s job listing for a Principal Machine Learning Engineer with a base salary ranging from $276,300 to $373,800 reflects the premium placed on AI roles. By contrast, the average salary for a senior software engineer is $171,895.

Professor Wang stresses the importance of familiarizing with AI tools even for those not specializing in AI. The proficiency in incorporating AI into daily tasks is emerging as a decisive factor in the ongoing talent war.

This evolving scenario, where Silicon Valley is simultaneously a breeding ground for AI and an early witness to its impact on employment, hints at the double-edged nature of technological advancement. While AI is undoubtedly revolutionizing industries and creating new horizons, it is imperative for the workforce to adapt and evolve in tandem with these transformations.

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