One of the effects of having a PhD in Computational Linguistics is that I have spent quite some time dissecting language, as well as AI technologies. One thing I have taken to heart is that the choice of words is powerful and important. And, as an ardent Star Wars fan — I can’t help but borrow a line from Luke Skywalker when I hear the phrase “AI will take our jobs.” In Master Luke’s own words: “Wow. Every word of what you just said was wrong.”
The statement “AI will take our jobs”, as sensational as it sounds, raises more problems than it resolves. Firstly, it’s a scare tactic, stoking unwarranted fear. Framing AI as the grim reaper of employment conceals the reality that jobs will likely evolve rather than vanish in the wake of AI. Just as the industrial revolution brought about seismic shifts in the workforce, AI is more likely to transform the landscape of work, not eradicate it.
Secondly — and this is a very important point — it conveniently overlooks the responsibility of major stakeholders. When we attribute job losses to AI, we exonerate companies, governments, and educational systems from their critical role in shaping workforce dynamics. Jobs don’t materialize from thin air — they are opportunities that organizations extend. If AI causes workforce reductions, it’s a strategic choice made by companies, not an inevitable consequence of AI’s existence.
A common counter-point here is that “it’s the market economy’s fault”. Sure, the market economy is, undeniably, a powerful force shaping the adoption and effects of AI. However, attributing job losses to market forces or AI alone is a narrow perspective. Yes, businesses will pursue efficiency and profits, often leading to automation. However, viewing this process as an inevitable, irreversible trajectory is to deny the complexity of the situation and the range of potential responses.
Adopting AI and automation doesn’t necessitate job losses. It can lead to job transformation. Businesses can choose to retrain and upskill their employees to work alongside AI, moving them into roles that AI can’t fill. The notion that AI will replace jobs instead of changing them isn’t an economic inevitability; it’s a choice.
Moreover, government regulation and educational initiatives play a significant role in this dynamic. Policies can be enacted to guide ethical AI adoption, protect workers, and promote re-skilling. Educational institutions can adapt curricula to prepare future generations for an AI-inclusive workforce.
Market forces will undoubtedly influence AI’s impact on jobs, but they are not the sole determinant. It’s a complex interplay of business choices, government policies, and societal responses. As we shape the narrative around AI and jobs, we must remember that we’re not passive spectators to market whims — we’re active participants capable of influencing outcomes.
This leads to the next point: the phrase anthropomorphizes AI. Presenting AI as a “sentient job thief” fosters misconceptions. AI is in no position to “take” anything. AI is a set of technologies, and AI-powered services are tools — sophisticated, yes, but tools and technologies nonetheless. Its impacts, beneficial or harmful, are ultimately contingent on how we as humans wield it. You don’t get away with trying to make AI a sentient being.
Furthermore, the phrase has an even darker side. It is a direct echo of a divisive historical narrative — “immigrants will take our jobs” — a rhetoric loaded with unnecessary conflict. By borrowing this problematic sentiment, we risk creating an adversarial relationship between AI and human workers, undermining the collaborative potential that could exist.
Finally, let’s examine the word “will”. This word, seemingly innocent, creates a sense of inevitability, as if we’re passively awaiting a predetermined fate. It absolves us of action, leaving us to helplessly watch the unfolding of events. But the future of work is not an AI-dictated inevitability. It’s a dynamic scenario that we, as society, have the power to influence. By choosing more active language, we can inspire proactive steps towards managing the changes AI might bring, instead of fostering a passive resignation to an uncertain future. Our words should encourage participation and adaptation, rather than a fatalistic acceptance.
In a galaxy not so far away, where AI is increasingly our companion rather than our foe, the words we choose to represent this change matter profoundly. A better phrase could be: “Humans can drastically change the job landscape by implementing AI.” Not as catchy (the Linguist in me gets that!), but more true. It also raises the importance of actually designing AI-powered services well; make better things that make things better. AI should augment people so that they become better at meaningful jobs.
Let’s rephrase the discourse, taking us from a fearful resignation to a realm of collective responsibility and optimism. After all, the force of our words can awaken a brighter future in this evolving landscape of human + AI work.
The right word is always a power, and communicates its definiteness to our action.
– George Eliot