“I always had a question in the back of my mind,” Ylonda Sherrod told The New York Times. “Will I be jobless? Am I training my replacement?”

Sherrod works at an AT&T call center in Mississippi, where AI is her constant companion. It generates notes from her calls for her supervisors to scrutinize. It suggests answers she can give to callers’ questions.

The company’s AI system also handles routine questions on its own, saving humans for more complicated queries.

Call centers have been early beachheads for AI in the workplace. In India, one entrepreneur recently dumped all customer service workers at his call center and replaced them with AI, justifying the move by pointing to the massive cost savings and boost in profits the company will enjoy.

A majority of U.S. call service workers have seen AI encroach on their jobs, according to a 2,000-person survey by Cornell University earlier this year. About two-thirds of respondents said AI will lead to layoffs in their companies within two years.

That can be tempting for employers: Sherrod makes almost $22 an hour, can earn as much as $3,000 a month in commissions, has company-paid health insurance, and can take five weeks of vacation every year. Humans are almost always a business’s highest cost center.

However, Sherrod’s job may be safe—at least for now. 

“We’re trying to focus on using AI to augment and assist our employees,” Nicole Rafferty, in charge of AT&T’s call centers, told the NYT. “We’re always going to need in-person engagement to solve complex customer situations.”

AI already has been reaming jobs out of the world’s economy. IBM has said it will no longer hire humans for jobs that AI can take over. BT Group, the British telecoms giant, said in May it will dispense with as many as 55,000 humans by 2030 as AI works its way through the company.

As a union shop steward, Sherrod has been challenging AT&T to share its plans for AI’s future role. She also recently was part of a workers’ delegation to the White House to take part in a discussion about AI’s impact on jobs.

TRENDPOST: AI will not only change technologies and jobs but also the role humans play in the economy. While AI will continue to cut jobs, companies and governments will create job-training programs to elevate workers’ skills for the new jobs that AI will create.

However, during a transitional decade or two, there will be workers unable to upgrade their skills and therefore will be cut out of an AI-shaped economy. For them, the growing discussions around guaranteed basic incomes in exchange for performing needed public services such as trash pick-up or maintaining public buildings will be increasingly important.

By the middle of the next decade, AI will be prevalent enough that most workers who interact with it in their jobs will have the skills to do so.

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