The recent explosion of generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools like ChatGPT, Microsoft Bing Chat, and Google Bard is already causing disruption. Their increase in mainstream use has led to lightning-fast levels of innovation in the technology sector and has stimulated a rethinking of what the labor force might look like in the future. Employers and employees alike are wondering what this means for their employment, businesses, and daily work lives.
The rapid development of AI has led to speculation that the world is entering its next major evolutionary phase. Some thought leaders are already referring to this as the age of the AI revolution, while others are calling it the fourth industrial revolution, suggesting that AI is the next in a line of paradigm-shifting inventions like steam power, mass production, electricity, computers, and the internet.
In his presentation at ASU+GSV 2023, Wharton Professor Ethan Mollick suggests that AI has the potential to be even more transformational than the steam engine. Citing early evidence that shows AI increasing white collar job performance anywhere from 20–70%, Mollick claims this can eclipse the 25% productivity improvement of the steam engine.
In a World Economic Forum article about the future of jobs, Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO at Coursera, also compares AI’s impact to the major revolutions in modern history. Maggioncalda says that AI is “going to infuse everything in society…It will change everything.” He even quotes the founder of his company, Andrew Ng, who has described AI as “the new electricity.”
A 2023 Bloomberg article discusses a first-of-its-kind, real-world study into the impacts of AI on business. The study was conducted by researchers at Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and followed AI’s impact on over 5,000 customer service workers for a year. The study found that workers using AI increased their productivity by an average of 14%. The lowest-skilled employees experienced the greatest benefits from using AI in their jobs, completing tasks 35% faster. Additionally, using AI to train new employees relieved supervisors of 20–30 hours per week that they had previously dedicated to coaching new staff. This regained time was then able to be reinvested on other work that may have otherwise gone unfinished.
The leaders of OpenAI, Sam Altman, Greg Brockman, and Ilya Sutskever, echo much of this early research and believe the impact of AI will be profound. On the OpenAI website, they state, “Given the picture as we see it now, it’s conceivable that within the next ten years, AI systems will exceed expert skill level in most domains, and carry out as much productive activity as one of today’s largest corporations.”
If these early indicators continue to hold strong, we may indeed be on the cusp of an AI revolution.
The Microsoft Example
In addition to early studies, we are also seeing the real-time impacts of AI on industry leaders.
Microsoft, a major investor in artificial intelligence, is rapidly integrating AI into its products. Most notably, it has combined OpenAI’s GPT technology with Bing Chat while integrating similar AI capabilities into its Office productivity suite in the form of Microsoft Copilot.
In the video Reinventing Productivity: The Future of Work with AI, Chairman and CEO at Microsoft, Satya Nadella, explains the company’s AI goals, saying, “As we look ahead, we believe this next generation of AI will unlock a new wave of productivity growth with powerful copilots designed to remove the drudgery from our daily tasks and jobs, freeing us to rediscover the joy of creation.”
Jared Spataro, CVP, Modern Work & Business Applications at Microsoft, adds that this work is being done to help workers “unleash creativity, unlock productivity, and uplevel skills.” Microsoft leadership believes AI can dramatically increase productivity and innovation by allowing employees to focus their energy more fully on higher-level tasks.
The ability of workers to tell a computer what to do simply by speaking to it or typing in a question is another potential game changer. Because this language-based interaction with a chatbot is so intuitive, it can feel more like a conversation with a colleague than a command to a computer. This makes the interaction simple and natural to use and removes the need to know technical jargon, coding skills, or even the knowledge of a user interface.
Nadella talks about the transformational impact on end users, saying, “For the first time, we have the access to AI that is as empowering as it is powerful.”
Microsoft recognizes that employees in almost all sectors of the economy are being buried by what they call “digital debt.” Digital debt refers to the immense volume of data, email, and communication streams that has taken significant time away from the important work of innovation. By providing opportunities to increase efficiency and automate some of our communication workflows, AI has the potential to lessen this debt and help people regain valuable time.
Microsoft says, “The data shows that the pace of work has accelerated faster than humans can keep up, and it’s impacting innovation. Next-generation AI will lift the weight of work. Organizations that move first to embrace AI will break the cycle—increasing creativity and productivity for everyone.”
What Does This Mean For Educators?
So where does all of this leave educators? Probably in the same place as everyone else—a bit excited, a fair amount nervous, and understandably unsure about what the future may hold.
Jeff Maggioncalda agrees, saying, “We’re pretty much all in the same boat, whether you are a factory worker on the frontlines or whether you’re a knowledge worker sitting behind a desk. Technology is shifting the way almost every job task will be performed.”
If education is to evolve at the speed of AI, everyone involved will need to actively join the conversation and explore artificial intelligence through the lens of possibility, opportunity, and productivity.
“The most pressing opportunity and responsibility for every leader,” says Vinod Muralidharan, general manager of Modern Work, Microsoft Asia, “is to understand how to leverage AI to remove the drudgery of work, unleash creativity, and build AI aptitude.”
This direction is as relevant to educators as it is to those working in the business sector. Educators can benefit greatly from minimizing tedious administrative tasks. By saving time here, they can redirect their energy to what is most important—working with their students.
As educators accept this challenge and engage in conversations around AI, several important questions must be considered.
- What tasks would you most like to automate through the use of AI?
- If AI could help you become 20% more efficient (the equivalent of 1 day a week), how would you use that regained time?
- How can the power of AI help you to improve teaching and learning?
While AI is new, the roots of these questions are not. These are goals educators have had as long as they’ve been teaching. What’s new about them is that artificial intelligence is quickly being integrated into these conversations. Generative AI tools have the potential to help educators answer these questions in new and more efficient ways.
As we all navigate this AI revolution, it will be important for educators to take an active and meaningful role in this conversation. Everyone involved with education needs to ask how they can harness this amazing technology to improve the lives of educators, students, and families. If done right, AI has the potential to be as revolutionary as anything we’ve seen in education. It can be a positive game-changer.
Extend Your Learning
- AI Required: Teaching in a New World with Ethan Mollick (ASU+GSV 2023)
- Introducing Microsoft 365 Copilot—A whole new way to work (Microsoft)
- The future of jobs: 2 experts explain how technology is transforming ‘almost every task’ (World Economic Forum)