Humans vs. AI in the Workplace: Surprising Insights from MIT/IBM Study

In an era where artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly evolving, a common concern is its potential to replace human jobs.

by Faruk Imamovic
Humans vs. AI in the Workplace: Surprising Insights from MIT/IBM Study
© Getty Images/Lintao Zhang

In an era where artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly evolving, a common concern is its potential to replace human jobs. This notion has been a topic of heated debates and extensive studies. Recently, a collaborative study by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and IBM has offered new insights into this ongoing discussion.

While many have anticipated a swift transition from human employees to AI-driven automation, this study suggests that the reality might be more complex than previously thought.

AI in the Workforce: Economic Realities vs.


The advent of artificial intelligence in the workplace has long been a subject of both awe and apprehension. Experts in various fields have speculated that AI could potentially replace a significant portion of human jobs.

A striking estimate suggests that nearly half of the roles currently filled by humans might be subject to automation. However, the MIT/IBM study presents a different narrative, emphasizing the economic viability of such a massive overhaul.

This research, conducted by a team of esteemed scholars at the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab, pivots the conversation from mere potential to practical feasibility. Their working paper, titled “Beyond AI Exposure: Which Tasks are Cost-Effective to Automate with Computer Vision?” meticulously analyzes the cost-effectiveness of automating jobs previously identified as candidates for AI integration.

The study highlights a crucial aspect often overlooked in the automation debate: the sheer expense of developing and implementing AI solutions tailored for specific tasks. “The previous literature on ‘AI Exposure’ cannot predict this pace of automation since it attempts to measure an overall potential for AI to affect an area, not the technical feasibility and economic attractiveness of building such systems,” the researchers noted.

The Cost of AI Implementation and Its Impact

Delving into the practicalities of AI implementation, the MIT-IBM study brings to light a significant barrier: the high cost of training and deployment. Contrary to the popular belief that AI systems, like ChatGPT, can be effortlessly integrated into various business operations, the reality is more complex.

These systems, while advanced, are often generalized in nature, making them less than ideal for specific, nuanced tasks. For businesses, this presents a dilemma. They face the choice of either developing their own AI systems, which involves significant investment in research and development, or outsourcing to vendors, entrusting them with sensitive data and processes.

Both options come with substantial financial implications. The researchers pointed out that, given current costs, automating tasks, particularly those involving computer vision, is economically viable for only a limited scope of operations.

This highlights a crucial aspect: the cost of AI implementation often outweighs the benefits it brings, at least in the current economic landscape.

The Future of Automation: A Balanced View

As we navigate through the complexities of AI integration in the workforce, it's essential to maintain a balanced perspective.

The MIT-IBM study, while highlighting economic hurdles, does not entirely dismiss the potential of AI in reshaping the job market. This transformation, as the research indicates, is likely to be gradual rather than abrupt.

The current trend shows many businesses still in the exploratory phase of AI implementation, weighing the benefits against the costs. The rapid advancement of AI technology further complicates predictions about its impact on employment.

While some job roles may be replaced by AI, others could be enhanced or even created, with both short-term and long-term economic considerations playing pivotal roles. This balanced view is crucial for making informed policy and business decisions.

As the researchers aptly put it, “Understanding how rapidly AI task automation will happen is key to making good policy and business decisions”. This sentiment is echoed in reports from institutions like the IMF and analyses from companies like Goldman Sachs.

The IMF report, for instance, suggests that nearly 40% of jobs globally could be influenced by AI, with higher-income economies facing more significant impacts than emerging markets. This disparity underscores the potential for AI to exacerbate existing inequalities, necessitating proactive measures by policymakers and business leaders.

IMF© Getty Images

The Goldman Sachs warning about the impact of generative AI on up to 300 million jobs worldwide further adds to this narrative. While acknowledging the potential for AI to boost labor productivity and economic growth, these predictions highlight the dual-edged nature of AI's role in the workforce.

Quantum Computing: The Next Frontier

While AI continues to shape the future of work, another technological marvel, quantum computing, looms on the horizon. This emerging field promises to redefine the boundaries of computing power and could have profound implications for various industries, including cybersecurity.

Quantum computing, with its ability to perform complex calculations at unprecedented speeds, is poised to achieve feats beyond the capabilities of current binary computers. One such potential is breaking RSA encryption, a standard that safeguards a myriad of institutions.

Jack Hidary, CEO of SandboxAQ, predicts the advent of "scaled, fault-tolerant quantum computers" by the end of this decade, capable of such feats. However, the journey towards this quantum future isn't just about overcoming security challenges.

Hidary, in his talk at the World Economic Forum, highlighted the potential for quantum technology to offer breakthroughs in areas like quantum sensing. This technology could enhance GPS accuracy and have applications in medical imaging and autonomous robotics.

The race to quantum advantage, where quantum computers outperform their classical counterparts, is on. Industry leaders like IBM and startups like QuEra are at the forefront, with ambitious goals for the coming years. Yet, alongside these developments, there's a concerted effort to develop quantum-safe encryption to protect data against future quantum threats.

Quantum sensing, a less-discussed aspect of quantum technology, might arrive sooner than quantum decryption capabilities. This advancement could fill gaps in our current technological capabilities, offering new ways to explore and interact with the world.