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Knowledge workers don’t seem to think AI will replace them, but they do expect it to save them four hours a week in the next year

Knowledge workers don’t seem to think AI will replace them, but they do expect it to save them four hours a week in the next year

Thanks to Generative AI, we are witnessing a transformative shift in the workplace for knowledge workers. The rapid pace of adoption is unlike anything we have seen before, and it could be more impactful than the PC, Internet, social media, mobile and cloud technology transitions that preceded it.

Our recent global survey of over 2,200 professionals working in legal, tax, accounting, risk, compliance and other disciplines reveals tremendous excitement about the possibilities that generative AI holds for the here and now and the future, improving their work, and their work-life balance.

Professionals now have a better sense of how AI will impact their work, and in some cases it already has. Our second annual Future of professionals survey found that 63% of people we surveyed have already used AI in their daily work to draft documents, summarize information, and conduct basic research. Notably, more than three-quarters of professionals surveyed see AI as a force for good, across geographies and professions. Respondents predicted that more than half of professional work will use AI-powered technology in five years.

The top predicted benefits of new AI-powered technologies include the greater value it will bring to their work (38% of respondents), increased efficiency and productivity (26%), and freed-up time (28%). This overall positive sentiment around AI is perhaps even more important because it provides a measurable counter-narrative to the dire predictions that this technology will destroy jobs. In fact, only 10% of respondents were concerned about widespread job losses in their sector.

Save time and make work more meaningful

It’s not the first time that the workplace has undergone technology-driven transformations. I think of my grandmother, one of the first women in Australia to work in a bank, who spent her days manually adding columns of data. PCs and spreadsheet software made manual calculations redundant, but it didn’t mean the end of the accounting profession.

Similarly, AI has the potential to automate labor-intensive or routine tasks to transform the way professional work is done and make careers in these fields more attractive. Professionals predict that work will be more satisfying with less time spent on the types of tasks that AI could tackle most easily.

Nearly 60% of respondents want their profession to focus on better work-life balance in the future, while 42% want to spend more time on engaging, creative work. In short, professional careers could become more attractive. Such changes could be particularly significant in the U.S. accounting industry, which has struggled to attract young people to the profession in recent years.

By automating the most routine tasks, our report found that professionals predict AI could free up as many as four hours a week in the next year. What will they do with an extra 200 hours a year? Maybe they’ll have more time to focus on their non-work lives. Or they could reinvest some of that time into more strategic work, innovation and professional development.

For U.S. lawyers alone, that would mean a collective 266 million hours of increased productivity. That’s the equivalent of adding one more associate for every 10 already on a team. It translates to more than $100,000 in new billable time per attorney per year, based on current average rates, with similar value and productivity gains projected across professions.

Our respondents predicted that the time savings could reach 12 hours per week in five years, more than 620 hours per year. Imagine the broader impact on the economy and GDP of this increased efficiency.

The real concerns of knowledge workers

Of course, change makes some people nervous, and for good reason. The biggest concern among professionals is that people are relying too much on AI-driven technology instead of using their professional judgment. Many are also concerned about the accuracy of gen AI results, which is why nearly two-thirds of respondents said that having a human in the loop is crucial for responsible use.

We can also expect malicious actors to try to use new technology in nefarious ways. Two-thirds of respondents cited data security as a concern.

Government employees were most concerned about the use of AI in their sector. And the vast majority of professionals in the legal and tax sectors said it would be a step too far to have AI represent clients in court or make final decisions.

Concerns about ethics and oversight only reinforce the need for us as a tech community to build AI applications responsibly and ethically. Because there is no generally agreed-upon ethics around Gen AI, there have been controversies around its uses, such as harvesting personal and copyrighted data from online sources to build large language models.

The future of AI is not predetermined, but ours to shape. We welcome collaboration from the broader tech community to advance innovation responsibly while embracing the benefits this transformative technology can bring.

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