SINGAPORE — Findings from a study revealed that high-skilled professional jobs in major digital hubs, including Singapore, may be most impacted by artificial intelligence (AI).
The extensive study, comprising more than 500 in-depth interviews and quantitative analyses, explored AI adoption patterns in more than ten global hubs, including Silicon Valley, Singapore, and London. It was conducted by a global team of 20 social scientists studying AI activities over a four-year period (2019 to 2023) and unveiled during the Digital Futures of Work Global Conference 2023 that was held in Singapore from 1 to 3 November, organised by the Institute for Adult Learning (IAL).
The global findings suggest that AI-driven corporate innovation is focused on high-skilled professional work, contrary to the expectation that AI would mostly affect low and middle-skilled roles. Tasks like decision-making, as well as domain skills like consulting and marketing, are being put through the process of "cognitive capture".
Cognitive capture is a way of using AI to mimic the way the human mind reads structured documents. It encompasses automation, standardisation and distribution.
"Societal leaders must ensure that the right questions about AI and the future of work are being asked and adapt accordingly,” said Professor Phillip Brown, the Director of the Digital Futures of Work Research Programme and a Distinguished Research Professor from Cardiff University.
Cognitive capture in Singapore
Similar results of an ongoing process of cognitive capture have been shown in Singapore, based on in-depth interviews with more than 80 business and technology leaders from 60 leading firms conducted by the researchers.
The study found that corporate innovation in Singapore is applied to professional jobs requiring high levels of education and training, professional experience, and judgement. These include areas such as credit decision-making, field engineering services, curriculum design and consultancy services, where tasks are being put through automation, standardisation and redistribution processes.
The study inferred that cognitive capture risks reducing the overall demand for professional labour, deskilling professional work to perform less complex tasks or making them more precarious through redistribution.
A qualitative analysis of data from 4,218 resident job holders surveyed between 2021 and 2022 by the Singapore Skills and Learning Survey indicated that while technological changes primarily benefit managerial roles, they pose risks to professional roles and have a minimal impact on the job quality of other workers.
Another concern highlighted by the study is that professional roles are more likely than other types of work to be done remotely and require a global team. This reduces the location stickiness of such jobs, thereby heightening the risk of digital offshoring.
That's why, the study said, public and private sectors, along with individuals, must collaborate to ensure the AI revolution is sustainable and benefits all, necessitating human-centric digital strategies, job redesign and upskilling for roles at all levels.
While human-centric use of digital technologies can be found in Singapore, it remains in small numbers. Firms employing such strategies include transnational corporations, SMEs and start-ups in various industries, including engineering, agritech, medtech, fintech, cleantech and F&B.
Job roles that are found to be enhanced include professional work and less-skilled work, such as customer service and technicians.
Sahara Sadik, Assistant Director (Research) at the IAL, and Chia Ying, senior researcher at IAL, said public and private sectors, along with individuals, must collaborate to ensure the AI revolution is sustainable and benefits all, necessitating human-centric digital strategies, job redesign and upskilling for roles at all levels.
"The use of AI technologies to make professional work more cost-efficient is evident. When coupled with existing data that technological change has been weakening professional jobs and not enhancing other types of work, it underlines the pressing need that we manage the AI transition more deliberately towards shared prosperity," said Sadik, who is also Deputy Director of the Digital Futures of Work Research Programme.
Chia, who led the quantitative investigation, said that alongside the threat to professional roles by automation, standardisation and redistribution, lower-skilled workers are not being freed up from routine tasks to do more interesting and complex work.
"This has implications on the learning they will be motivated to seek. The use of AI technologies to enhance jobs, skills and learning needs to be pursued more decisively," she said.