Kim Harrisberg: “This was one of our most widely read articles at Context. ‘Will ChatGPT steal my job?’ is a question many industries were asking when they suddenly feared a chatbot could do their jobs better than them. This explainer dives into what ChatGPT actually is, and what industry experts are saying about its capabilities and limitations.”
Artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT are reshaping the workplace and being incorporated into everything from customer service to content creation—with users touting greater efficiency and reduced costs. But tech experts and activists have warned of a lack of regulation to prevent misuse, the risk of discrimination against some workers, and the potential for inequality as certain types of jobs are automated faster than others.
As the South Africa corespondent for Context, the media platform brought to you by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, I am drawn to stories about how this impacts emerging economies already battling high unemployment rates. Will these tools help streamline existing jobs or will they replace them?
We’ve collected the diverse stories below to help you make sense of what AI means for workers’ rights and opportunities, across the Global South and beyond.—Kim Harrisberg, South Africa correspondent, Context
Mozilla, Pocket’s parent company, was a proud supporter of the 2023 Thomson Reuters Foundation Trust Conference.
Image by XH4D / Getty Images.
KH: “From feminist AI research groups to artificial intelligence used in agriculture, African start ups from Uganda to South Africa are creating jobs in the AI space that help find local solutions to local problems, while also protecting their data from Big Tech. I found it interesting that African techies compared Big Tech’s data mining in the Global South to actual mining exploitation that the continent has lived through and wants to prevent in the digital space.”
KH: “Data annotators help AI applications run smoothly, and this work—which involves labeling text, video and audio—creates millions of jobs in the Global South. The catch is that the pay is often paltry and the hours are long. This story spotlights the dark side of AI job creation and is important to keep an eye on as the AI debate can sometimes forget the people behind the technology.”
KH: “This entertaining video takes on the question of whether our jobs are safe from AI and applies it practically—asking AI applications to script, edit and do the voice-over for a video on Shiba Inu, a Japanese dog breed. Our producer then asked her colleagues to be brutally honest and compare it to her own video production skills. Find out what they said.”
KH: “I love the human stories as well as the powerful photos in this article by Rest of World that looks at the impact of the rise of AI tools on contract workers like graphic designers, artists and software developers in the Global South. From Manila to Cairo, the article asks these contractors how they are both impacted by and benefiting from AI tools. ‘If generative AI represents a tectonic shift in the way we work, offshore outsourced workers are at the fault lines,’ writes the author.”
KH: “This Vox video dives into the topic of AI vs humans in the context of work. What’s interesting is the contrasting opinions between economics and futurists about what the future holds. It also contextualized the historical conversation about tech vs humans throughout history, showing how what we are debating now is nothing new, even if it is evolving. ‘Tons of jobs have died, but work persists,’ says the narrator.”
KH: “Could AI could help equalize the workforce? This well-researched take from MIT labour economist David Autor examines the possible scenario of AI making elite work cheaper and more accessible for all classes. He concludes that, overall, human creativity, empathy and problem solving still put us miles ahead of AI. ‘The labor market is the least scary part of this at the moment,’ he says.”
KH: “This more moderate take on the future of work hypothesizes that although AI may not take over our jobs completely, it will likely transform them in one way or another. The article focuses on possible future snapshots into different industries, from AI used to boost cybersecurity in banks to ordering medical records in hospitals and generating marketing prompts in advertising firms.”
KH: “A recent Pew Research Center report polled over 11,000 American workers about how they feel about AI. What’s interesting is that 81% of interviewees feared the rise in AI would mean a spike in work surveillance. WIRED noted that this AI-powered surveillance monitoring is already happening to truck drivers, warehouse staff and office workers around the world.”
Kim Harrisberg is a South African journalist with Context News focusing on the impact of technology on society in Southern Africa, from the rise of surveillance tech being imported into Africa to the women tackling “sexist algorithms” that penalise them for balancing gig work with being mothers and wives. Prior to this, she worked as health reporter for South Africa’s oldest health news service, producing stories on health inequality in the country. She has her Masters in African Studies from University of Cambridge.