The advent of ChatGPT is striking fear into the hearts of many, in much the same way as the Gutenberg press once did. There’s significant concern that ChatGPT – an artificial intelligence chatbot – will take the jobs of many in the knowledge economy. It appears that everyone from writers and artists through to accountants and lawyers are worried about the impact of ChatGPT on their industries. Will the machines finally take over and put the professional class out of work?

If you’ve not tried your hand at ChatGPT, it’s an uncanny piece of technology that formulates answers to nearly any question you might have in the style you’d like it delivered. You can interact with it as you might a PA, refining your relationship with the AI so that it better understands your preferred tone, your likes and dislikes. And while it feels a lot like a human, it most certainly is not sentient or alive. ChatGPT might interact with you in a way that feels human … but it remains a machine. It’s important to remember this amongst the hyperbole of discussion around AI and its impact on the economy.

As a species, this is far from the first time that new technology has given us a scare. The industrial press, the telephone, television and the mobile phone. The internet. eReaders. Streaming services. New ways of communicating and sharing knowledge feels risky, as it changes the power dynamic of who is gatekeeping knowledge. We can’t be sure exactly how AI will impact on our society, and it worries us. The reality is that ChatGPT is a tool that will make all kinds of professionals more effective. It isn’t a replacement for expertise; it is a helpmeet and an administrator that can help you to structure work efficiently. Will the advent of ChatGPT result in job losses? Probably. But it’s more likely to create a deficit of knowledge that will impact on the career progression of junior professionals (more on that later).

Here’s the thing; there are always going to be business owners and individuals who are less than discerning when it comes to content design and research. These are the individuals who lick their chops at the idea of getting a logo designed for $5, or having social media executed for $14 a month. They are price-driven, without regard for quality. Reader, these are not leading businesses. They’re already investing in shoddy content or work that doesn’t pass the pub test. Quality in thought, in design, in concept remains the hallmark of good business. ChatGPT used well has the ability to speed up the production of work by creatives and professionals, but it does not replace them.

I’ve observed ChatGPT being used for administrative support and research functions within a legal business, where it was asked to provide examples of a matter that would support the lawyer’s advice for a client. ChatGPT did provide examples that looked as though they addressed the lawyer’s request – but upon closer inspection, the matters were incorrect. They were real matters, but they had no bearing at all on the material required. ChatGPT later asked that the materials it presented be disregarded, as they were ‘fabricated’. This is an example of AI ‘hallucination’, where the bot becomes trapped in its own logic and makes things up. Without a human checking the AI’s work, ChatGPT is at best an impressive but risky tool. It requires the oversight of an actual human with knowledge and the capacity for good, real-world decision making at its helm.

Watching professionals work out how best to utilise ChatGPT to streamline their practices has been really fascinating. It is already clear that the success of ChatGPT within a business depends on the skills of the user. Just as you need to understand how to use Google well to return accurate searches and legitimate information, specific prompts need to be fed into ChatGPT to make it work efficiently. Like any other technology from a lathe to a microphone, there is significant expertise in getting the best from a machine.

My impression of ChatGPT is that it poses the biggest risk to professional service professionals in the junior years of their careers. So much essential learning is done in the early stage of a career, with often repetitive but very important work. It is this work that grows newbies into veterans, and it is this more basic work that can be mimicked by AI. Twenty years down the track, we’ll see if there has been a drop-off in opportunities for experts to develop their critical thinking, research and writing skills. But for now, I’d say that ChatGPT is an interesting new way of streamlining some work functions. Like any tool, whether it proves valuable or a waste of time is all in how you use it.

All artwork of the author in this blog is AI generated. So, as you can see, you don’t have much to worry about.