Artificial Intelligence

Is AI making you suffer from FOBO? Here's what can help

Around a fifth of workers in the US say they fear AI will make them obsolete, a phenomenon dubbed “FOBO”.

Around a fifth of workers in the US say they fear AI will make them obsolete, a phenomenon dubbed “FOBO”. Image: Unsplash/Lukas

Kate Whiting
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Artificial Intelligence

  • Emerging technologies including AI will disrupt jobs and employees’ skills in the coming years.
  • Around a fifth of workers in the US say they fear AI will make them obsolete, a phenomenon dubbed “FOBO”.
  • The World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs report finds that some roles will never be replaced and that AI will lead to job growth in some areas, while upskilling will be key.

As artificial intelligence (AI) systems become increasingly advanced, many people have developed anxieties over the potential for AI to make human skills, jobs, or even the human species itself obsolete. This phenomenon has been dubbed “fear of obsolescence” or “FOBO” – the notion that we will create or evolve ourselves into irrelevance.

Or, to put it another way …

Imagine waking up one day and finding your job has been automated overnight by intelligent machines. Then you discover even the career you dreamed of pursuing next has already been mastered by AI.

Quickly, more and more human domains once thought impossible to replicate – art, music, emotion – fall prey to advancing algorithms until all uniquely human talent and purpose dwindles in the face of superior robotic counterparts. Soon your very existence becomes trivial … unnecessary.

Sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? But also, if we’re being honest, a little odd. That’s because none of the above was written by a human – AI wrote it.

Claude.ai responded to a human prompt for an intro about FOBO (in the first paragraph) and then a refined prompt asking for it to be more creative and add some suspense (in the two above).

Here’s what you actually need to know about the phenomenon.

What is FOBO?

FOBO is a real feeling – over a fifth of workers in the US are worried technology will make their jobs obsolete, according to a Gallup poll in September 2023.

fobo: U.S. workers worried their job will become obsolete because of technology.
Workers’ fears over obsolescence are growing. Image: Gallup

It’s not a new phenomenon. Gallup has been tracking the sentiment since 2017. But the fear has grown over the period between 2021 and 2023 – coinciding with generative AI going mainstream with the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022.

While the number of workers without a college degree who expressed concern stayed almost unchanged at 24%, there was a rise in the number of worried college-educated workers – from 8% to 20%.

Concern has also risen more in the younger generation – with an 11 percentage point change among those aged between 18 and 34.

Percentage of U.S. workers worried their job will become obsolete because of technology by group.
College graduates are growing more concerned about being replaced by AI. Image: Gallup

Should people be worried about AI taking their jobs?

Is FOBO justified? It largely depends on the profession you’re in as to how many tasks can be automated, but humans will always need to be kept in the loop to some extent – with their work augmented by AI.

Routine and repetitive tasks are the ones AI is most likely to automate, according to the World Economic Forum’s Jobs of Tomorrow whitepaper, whereas critical thinking and complex problem-solving could be augmented by the technology.

Only 16.1% of an HR manager’s job, for example, shows potential for automation and 22.2% for augmentation, according to the report.

But there are some roles AI will never be able to replace, and in fact, careers in agriculture, education and supply chain and logistics will likely see growth.

Businesses are introducing automation into their operations more slowly than expected, according to the Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023.

Just over a third (34%) of all business-related tasks today are performed by machines, with the remaining 66% performed by humans. That’s only a 1% increase compared to the 2020 Future of Jobs Survey.

Discover

How is the World Economic Forum creating guardrails for Artificial Intelligence?

In fact, respondents lowered their expectations for future automation to predict that, by 2027, 42% of business tasks will be automated, down from a predicted 47% in the 2020 survey.

Although AI is expected to lead to higher churn rates and three-quarters of companies are looking to adopt the technology, more businesses expect AI adoption to lead to job growth than job loss – at 50% and 25% respectively.

Why upskilling will be crucial for the jobs of the future

In the next five years, employees estimate that 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted, meaning upskilling and life-long learning are now more essential, says the Future of Jobs Report 2023.

The skills most in demand are those that AI can’t replace, including analytical thinking, empathy and active listening, and leadership and social influence.

AI will also create new fields of work, with growing opportunities for: “trainers”, “explainers” and “sustainers”, the Forum’s white paper, Jobs of Tomorrow: Large Language Models and Jobs, found.

When asked whether humans should fear AI taking their jobs, Anthropic’s Claude responded: “I have no independent desires to take jobs from humans or render anyone obsolete. I am designed solely to be assistive to human goals and values – not replace them …

“I am only an interface focused on providing helpful information to you, not pushing any autonomous motivations. My role is to collaborate with human creativity as a tool – not rival or replace it.”

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Related topics:
Artificial IntelligenceFuture of WorkJobs and Skills
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