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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 25th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Blue collar for the win

13 Nov 2023

For as long as I can remember, blue collar workers have been considered "second tier" citizens, a step down from white-collar workers.

That is perhaps not how *I* see things but society as a whole has considered that having some kind of academic qualification and working with your brain rather than your brawn gave you some kind of elevated status -- both socially and economically.

We tend to consider that someone with a PhD in physics or a doctor of medicine is somehow to be more respected than the guy who fixes your plumbing and certainly more than the low-paid labourer who cleans the streets of litter.

Interestingly enough, AI looks set to turn these perceptions upside down.

No amount of AI is going to replace the plumber, the electrician or the guy who mows your lawns once a week.

Yes, perhaps *eventually* we'll have robots that can operate at these levels but long before then, we're going to see AI displace a huge swathe of those white-collar jobs that we tend to consider "professional".

AI is already making huge breakthroughs in the sciences, effectively devaluing human efforts in such sectors and, if things continue to progress at the current rate, there may not be a lot of work available for university graduates in these areas. Why pay a piece of wetware a steep hourly rate and have to provide other perks such as medial insurance, superannuation contributions, sick leave, etc -- when a computer running AI is a far lower-cost option?

Likewise in the entertainment and creative industries.

I'm already hearing that freelance photographers are finding it increasingly hard to get work through their usual agencies. Instead of paying for a "real human" to go out and capture the images they need, advertising and other creative businesses are simply using generative AI to get the images they want for a few cents each.

We've also seen popular music tracks and vocals all magically produced by generative AI, without the need for a single cent in royalties to be paid.

In the USA, actors and screenwriters have been striking in an attempt to sidestep the effects of AI and although a settlement has now been reached, I predict that it will be temporary at best. With top-tier actors demanding tens of millions of dollars per movie, generative AI must be looking extremely attractive to studios right now.

I can see a future where unemployment starts to grow dramatically within white-collar and academic circles due to the effects and power of AI.

Meanwhile, you're still going to need someone to unclog your toilet, someone to mow your lawns, and someone to fix the faulty electrical outlet in the bathroom.

With this in mind, what do you tell a kid that is still in school but trying to plan a career option?

Is it really worth spending three or four years at university in the full knowledge that the job you're studying for may have been taken over by AI before you even get your degree?

Might it not be better to instead opt for an apprenticeship in some trade that AI won't be replacing any time soon?

These are decisions that perhaps our kids should be informed and educated about right now -- before it's too late and they end up taking the path to employment oblivion.

Despite all the cries that it is an existential threat, AI is unlikely to cost you your life... but it might cost you your livelihood.

Carpe Diem folks!

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