For those wondering when artificial intelligence will start replacing human workers, the answer is that it already has. As AI-powered tools like ChatGPT and Google Bard become workplace staples and businesses are forced to be more mindful of their bottom lines, automating labor has become a logical course of action for many.
Whether CEOs decide to boast about their decision on social media (we're looking at you Duukan) or mask the changes under layoffs and company restructures, we highlight the companies that have already ditched workers for AI, as well as some that are planning to follow suit in coming years.
Read on to find out which companies are swapping humans for AI in 2024, and to learn more about one of the biggest labor market disruptions to date.
For Some Workers, The AI Takeover Is Already Here
While CEOs have been utilizing AI for some time, the dawn of tools like ChatGPT has made it easier than ever for companies to speed up manual processes, and even automate certain types of knowledge work. In fact, a recent study found that half of CEOs believe they may replace jobs with AI, with the figure rising for C-suite executives.
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For many companies, utilizing AI is a no-brainer. Not only can it be a major cost saver at a time when rising inflation rates put further pressure on bottom lines, but it can also significantly boost productivity. This is demonstrated in our annual workplace report, which found the most productive companies are those that use artificial intelligence extensively.
The result of this adoption? Widespread job insecurity. While it is true most companies are planning to augment human tasks rather than replace them altogether, the actions some companies are taking are confirming commonly held fears about the direction of the employment landscape.
Understandably, most companies don't want to gain a reputation for replacing workers with AI. So if you're curious about which businesses are automating labor, read our summary below:
7 Companies That Have (or Probably Have) Replaced Workers With AI
US web portal and creators of the Frutiger Aero messaging platform, MSN, decided to ditch workers for AI earlier than lots of other companies on this list. In 2020, MSN sacked dozens of journalists responsible for writing news stories displayed on the company's homepage and has since been using AI software to create the content. According to the media company that employed the staff, PA Media, these actions were in response to financial difficulties the firm was facing, but weren't a result of the pandemic.
Google has rung in the new year by announcing not one, but two rounds of layoffs, with a potential third round on the horizon. Google CEO Sundar Pichai hasn't explicitly announced these jobs will be replaced with AI technology outright. However, the job-cutting spree, which largely affects workers from the company ad division, coincides with a heavy deployment of AI across customer care and ad sales processes, as well as a company-wide effort to use the tech to improve “operational efficiency”.
Unlike Google, Bangalore-based ecommerce company Dukaan took a less subtle approach to AI job replacements. Last July, company CEO Summit Shah replaced 90% of customer support staff with a chatbot that was developed in-house, before bragging about the decision on social media platform X. In the post, Shah defended the actions as “tough but necessary”, as the chatbot helped the company cut the cost of its customer support function by 85%, and drastically reduce customer wait times.
Last June, the beloved Swedish furniture retailer Ikea announced that it would be phasing out call center work and using an AI bot called Billie to answer queries instead. However, unlike most companies on this list, Ikea is planning to upskill affected employees and has already begun training thousands of call center workers to become interior design advisors.
Instead of using AI to the detriment of workers, global people manager at Ingka Group Ulrika Biesert believes its use will actually lead to the creation of new jobs at Ikea, while opening up development opportunities for existing workers.
Last April, Chinese marketing agency BlueFocus decided to end the contracts of its human content writers and designers “fully and indefinitely”, in favor of generative AI. While BlueFocus didn't state publically that it would be using AI to replace staff, the action was taken just two days after the company was granted Microsoft's Azure OpenAI service license, and just a month after they partnered with Baidu ERNIE Bot to build a full-scale AI marketing service system, leading many spectators to put two and two together.
Earlier this year, US software company Salesforce fired 700 workers – equivalent to approximately 1% of its global workforce. This is in addition to similar cuts that saw the company reduce its personnel by 10% last year. Similarly to Google, Salesforce hasn't announced that these job losses are directly linked to AI. But with Salesforce's hiring budget decreasing as it pumps more money into artificial intelligence, some argue that it's likely that many of these vacancies will be filled by automated labor.
In January gamified language learning app Duolingo announced it will be offboarding off 10% of its contractor workforce, as the company pivots to AI to translate content. Since these workers weren't permanent employees, no worker was officially laid off as part of this process. However, a spokesperson from Duolingo explained that part of their decision to terminate these contracts could be “attributed to AI”, sending a very clear signal that the company is happy to switch out human labor for AI.
Companies That Are Planning to Replace Workers With AI
For many companies, automating labor is a long game. Here are some businesses that are planning to replace workers with AI in the future, but are yet to hand out any pink slips.
Tech giant IBM plans to gradually replace around 30% of its back-office roles with artificial intelligence within the next five years, equating to around 7,800 positions overall. The firm has already slowed or stopped hiring for certain clerical positions, like those working in human resources.
But clerical positions aren't the only roles at risk. IMBs CEO Arvind Krishna explained that he's also interested in replacing roles that require more complex functions like evaluating workforce composition and productivity within the next 10 years.
British telecommunications company BT plans to cut around 55,000 jobs by the end of the decade and replace around 10,000 of these roles with artificial intelligence. Chief executive Philip Jansen explains that the company is set to be a huge beneficiary of AI going forward, as it gears up to streamline its customer service operations with the technology. Not all customer service roles will become automated, however, with Jansen reassuring customers BT won't be in a situation “where people feel like they’re dealing with robots.”