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With the recent excitement around ChatGPT and Google’s response with Bard, Artificial intelligence is on the agenda as never before. With the Goldman Sachs report highlighting the threats to employment for certain classes of workers, it has become something that is central to people’s perception of how our working lives are going to change.
What does that mean in the context of ageism?
I think there are three things that we should be thinking about when we consider AI and Ageism.
Many AI systems reinforce existing prejudices.
If AI is being used in a recruitment system, a performance evaluation system, or in the health care system, the risk is that existing attitudes towards older people are reinforced by the AI. But because AI is not transparent in the way it makes decisions, it’s much more difficult to challenge the decisions that AI makes.
It will shift what is most valued in the job market.
There will be increasing polarisation between those lower paid roles that require physical engagement to deliver the work and those lower paid roles that are clerical in natured. Tradespeople, personal service aspects of social and health care and engineering repair are examples where hands-on interaction with people or physical assets is required. Although AI can support the efficiency and effectiveness of the work, we are a long way from a robot repairing a leak, mending a window or helping somebody with personal hygiene as they become progressively immobile. On the other hand, lower paid clerical, administrative and retail roles which often provide entry level experience as a pathway to a managerial or professional are going to continue to disappear at an alarming rate. Whether it is the loss of bank clerks or shop workers in the current phase, we can envisage that the next wave will close the call centres and bring us to lights out warehouses.
The challenge for people, as they progress through their careers and get older, is that, to make the transition to new work, they will need to learn new skills and build experience in new roles. However, there is a huge bias against training older people or developing them into new roles. The march of AI is likely to reinforce the trends that means that it’s more and more difficult for older people to get work.
The increasing value that we placed upon experience.
The difficulty with AI tools is they are not good at understanding context; they are not good at making and framing the questions precisely. Chat GPT may be very good at giving you a generic bland answer to a question and it may be very good for giving you technical information, but it’s much weaker at understanding the appropriate context in which to apply that and the wisdom that you need to make the right choices.
I suggest that for senior professionals AI will enhance your value over time. The 20 or 30 years of skills, knowledge and experience you’ve built up will allow you to leverage the information that AI brings and offer your own distinctive insights and choices.
Will younger professionals recognise the value there?
That is the big open question.
For senior professionals looking to extend their second half career, now is the time to position yourself with a distinctive offer, a distinctive point of view and a reputation that will take you beyond the generic that AI has.
AI will shift the landscape for all workers and will have a particular impact on ageism.
AI models will reinforce existing prejudices and hide them in non-transparent decision-making processes. With age the least protected characteristic in the Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) policy and intervention landscape, ageism could become endemic, institutionalised and ignored.
AI will limit the long-term career opportunities of semi-skilled and low skilled clerical workers who struggle to get the training they need transition to new roles and lack the entry level opportunities to grow into managerial and professional careers.
Finally, for senior professionals who position themselves correctly, they can bring the perspectives that only wisdom can offer and leverage AI to make the most of their 2nd half careers. For many of them a portfolio executive workstyle will be the best way to take these opportunities. Check out https://portfolioexecutive.biz.
Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.