Remote Jobs Are the Most at Risk From AI, Experts Claim

A new report by leading Oxford University academics suggests that remote working jobs will the first to be replaced by AI.

Remote workers are likely to be the first to start losing their jobs to AI, academics at the internationally renowned Oxford University have warned.

A draft paper penned by Professors Carl-Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne cautions that tasks able to be completed remotely are also the easiest to automate, making home workers more vulnerable to being replaced by AI systems.

Office-based work is harder to replace, they add, as AI is unable to replicate the value of in-person conversations and meetings. It’s certainly food for thought, as many employees continue to fight companies ending fully remote work.

AI Can Do It All – Except Replace the Office

The Oxford University professors are experts when it comes to the risks posed by AI to human jobs. Back in 2013, they warned that automation would lead to the loss of millions of job, saying that a shocking 47% of roles in the US could be at risk in the future. While we haven’t reached those alarming levels just yet, data suggests that 4,000 US jobs were replaced by AI in May alone.

Now, they are warning that people intent on only working for companies still hiring for remote working roles may want to rethink their position. This is because of the emphasis employers place on “real-life interactions” and the fact that things like ad hoc brainstorming sessions can’t be easily replaced by AI as the kind of tasks able to be completed at home.

“It now looks like AI may be able to replace human labour in many virtual settings, meaning that if a task can be done remotely, it can also be potentially automated. In-person interactions remain valuable, and such real-life interactions cannot be readily substituted,” Professor Frey notes.

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Latest AI Chatbots Can Replicate “Social Intelligence”

Can AI replace workers? That’s the big question and the Oxford academics are clear: if you only work remotely, then yes. Central to their report, which is due to be published in the Brown Journal of World Affairs, is the fact that the new generation of chatbots like ChatGPT and its alternatives can complete tasks that “previously required human social intelligence.”

“The potential scope of automation has expanded in that many virtual social interactions can now be automated,” their report argues, noting that bots are now able to do things like analyze language, negotiate, and write persuasively.

This could help to explain why so many companies are now operating enforced return to office policies – Zoom being perhaps the most infamous example, given its leading role in promoting and facilitating home working during the pandemic years. Some of the other big names to go down this route include IBM, whose return-to-office mandate came into force recently, as well as Facebook owner Meta, Amazon, Apple and many others.

World of Work at a Crossroads

Fears of AI job replacement for remote workers may be concerning, but there are still plenty of companies that offer remote roles, as well as remote jobs requiring no qualifications. In addition, the backlash to companies that are insisting staff return to the office shows a real passion for remote work, such as when Grindr recently issuing a return to office mandate, and losing nearly half it’s staff in the process.

That said, Professors Frey and Osborne aren’t alone in sounding the alarm. Some recent reports suggest AI will have replaced 2.4 million jobs by 2030, while even OpenAI CEO Sam Altman admits AI will result in job losses for many. All of which is further cause for concern in already uncertain economic times.

In 2023, it seems that everything to do with work is at a crossroads. Between those who enthusiastically embrace AI and those who fear it. Between those who stand by remote working and those pushing for a return to pre-pandemic, office-first norms. Between those sticking to their 9-to-5, Monday to Friday guns and those who see real 4-day work week benefits.

Now, you can add a further layer to wider debates around AI, home working, and the future relationship between the two.

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Written by:
James Laird is a technology journalist with 10+ years experience working on some of the world's biggest websites. These include TechRadar, Trusted Reviews, Lifehacker, Gizmodo and The Sun, as well as industry-specific titles such as ITProPortal. His particular areas of interest and expertise are cyber security, VPNs and general hardware.
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