“Is this the start of the great AI jobs bloodbath?”
It was the dramatic question posed on the front page of the Daily Mail on Friday, after the BT Group said it will cut between 40,000 and 55,000 jobs by the end of the decade.
This comes amid its plans to shift to artificial intelligence (AI) - whereby machines perform functions usually associated with humans - and automated services.
Chief executive Philip Jansen said advanced AI is a key part of the company’s technological transformation plans. If BT does end up cutting 55,000 roles, that will equate to a 40% cut in its workforce.
It comes as businesses, academics and governments are trying to figure out what work might look like in the age of AI.
Watch: BT Group to cut up to 55,000 jobs by end of decade
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s former chief scientific adviser, said earlier this month that AI could have a comparable impact on jobs to the industrial revolution.
And new research, published on Friday, shows nearly two in three UK workers (62%) think AI will take away more jobs than it will create - though the YouGov survey, which was carried out before BT’s announcement, also found just 22% are worried about their own prospects.
Which jobs are most likely to go?
A report published recently by the White House suggested that in future, AI might be able to take over a wide range of non-routine tasks, unlike past automation which impacted mainly routine roles.
And a major analysis published in March by Goldman Sachs, the US investment bank, estimated AI could threaten 300 million full-time jobs globally. It estimated a quarter of current work tasks could be automated by AI in the US and Europe.
According to the report, the 10 sectors where the most tasks could be performed by AI - and therefore are the most exposed to job losses - are:
Office and administrative support (46%)
Architecture and engineering (37%)
Life, physical and social science (36%)
Business and financial operations (35%)
Community and social service (33%)
Computer and mathematical (29%)
Farming, fishing and forestry (28%)
The least exposed sectors are cleaning and maintenance (1%); installation, maintenance and repair (4%); and construction and extraction (6%).
In terms of job roles, Goldman said clerical support workers (45%), professionals (34%), technicians and associate professionals (31%) and managers (29%) are most under threat from AI.
However, it also suggested "widespread AI adoption could eventually drive a 7% increase in annual global GDP over a 10-year period".
Joseph Fuller, a management practice professor at Harvard Business School, has said it will take some time for companies to understand how to use AI, but when they do there will likely be widespread cuts to white collar jobs.
“White collar workers whose job security was founded on their knowledge of complex processes and ability to integrate information from various sources quickly to make decisions will be displaced in large numbers."
However, his Harvard colleague Edward McFowland III said that while AI will change how people do their jobs, the doomsday scenario where it replaces everyone is still far off.
“The advent of the calculator didn’t make math less important, but it did change what mathematical skills became important to organisations and, importantly, how we taught math in schools.
“It became less important for engineers building rockets at Nasa, for example, to solve complex math problems in their heads. The ability to structure a problem or goal as a set of mathematical equations that the calculator could solve became more important.”
He said the way people are trained should be used to complement AI, helping them to feed in the right information and questions and spotting mistakes in its output.
It's in this fast-moving climate that Rishi Sunak said "guardrails" will be put in place to maximise the benefits of AI while minimising the risks - such as job losses but also in other areas such as disinformation - to society.
“If it’s used safely, if it’s used securely," the prime minister said, "obviously there are benefits from artificial intelligence for growing our economy, for transforming our society, improving public services.
“But, as I say, that has to be done safely and securely, and with guardrails in place, and that has been our regulatory approach.”