Could artificial intelligence fuel the move to a four-day workweek?

AI will likely automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks, allowing employees to focus on higher value-added missions. — AFP Relaxnews

Many observers are harbouring the hope that generative artificial intelligence will make for major productivity gains. Two recently published studies support this theory, and even claim that these technologies could contribute to the widespread adoption of the four-day working week.

The papers were published by Autonomy, a think tank dedicated to tackling climate change, the future of work and economic planning. They analyse the effects of AI use on the British and American workforces, reporting that this technology could enable 28% of UK workers to see their working week cut from 40 to 32 hours by 2033. This means that they could easily complete their work tasks in four days, instead of five. And all for the same wage.

According to Autonomy, this could also be the case for some 35 million US workers. The organisation estimates that 28% of the US payroll could switch to a four-day week within the next 10 years. In addition, 71% of American workers could see their working time reduced by at least 10% if they use large language models (LLMs) – programs capable of generating automatic responses to questions formulated in writing – in their day-to-day work. This percentage rises to 88% in the UK.

These productivity gains can be explained by the fact that generative AI tools will likely automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks, enabling employees to devote themselves to higher value-added missions. But also to their lives outside the office.

The question of creativity

Indeed, Autonomy believes that deploying LLMs in the workplace to shorten the working week while maintaining pay “offers the possibility of avoiding mass unemployment (and all the social and political effects of this), reducing widespread mental health illnesses as well as physical ailments associated with overwork and creating masses of free time for democracy, leisure consumption and social cohesion in general”.

However, the conclusions of these studies should be treated with caution. Experts remain divided on the impact of artificial intelligence on the job market.

Research teams from Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Warwick and the BCG Henderson Institute found, after conducting a scientific experiment with 750 employees, that the new generation of AI tools only improve their performance in so-called “creative” tasks (writing emails, summarising documents, finding names for a product/service, etc).

However, these tools don’t help workers solve complex problems. Worse still, they tend to drastically reduce their creativity and standardise their output.

“Because GPT-4 provides responses with very similar meaning time and again to the same sorts of prompts, the output provided by participants who used the technology was individually better but collectively repetitive,” the researchers note in their report.

Companies will therefore need to think hard about how to harness the benefits of artificial intelligence, without restricting the creative capacity of their teams. The challenge is to ensure that the relationship between humans and technology is one of collaboration, not dependence. – AFP Relaxnews

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