MS. LEE: Mornin’ folks! Welcome to The Washington Post. I’m Jennifer Lee, Director of Events. It’s awesome to have y’all here with us today. From fancy tech stuff like artificial intelligence to new work setups, we’re seein’ some real changes in the workplace. And let me tell ya, these changes are gonna have a big ol’ impact on our economy and society as a whole. Today, we’ve got some heavy hitters from Congress, the business world, and education who wanna talk about these innovations and how they’re shapin’ the future of work.
First up, my colleague, Leigh Ann Caldwell, is gonna have a chat with Democratic Congressman, Ted Lieu, about the impact of AI on jobs. Then, Danielle Abril will be joined by Christina Janzer, the Senior VP of Research and Analytics at Slack, to dive into workplace productivity and the rise of hybrid work. And finally, Danielle will sit down with Michael Crow, the President of Arizona State University, who’s teachin’ a class on ChatGPT.
But before we kick things off, I wanna give a shoutout to our sponsor, Amazon Web Services. Gotta keep it real, Amazon’s founder, Jeff Bezos, owns The Post, and Patty Stonesifer, our interim CEO, sits on the Amazon board. Gotta keep it transparent, y’know?
Thanks again for bein’ here, folks. Leigh Ann Caldwell is up next after a quick video.
MS. CALDWELL: Good mornin’, y’all! Welcome to The Washington Post Live. I’m Leigh Ann Caldwell, your host for today. I’m also a coauthor of The Early 202 Newsletter. And today, we’ve got Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, here to talk about AI. Originally, we were supposed to have Representative Jay Obernolte on stage, but he had to bail last night. So, Congressman Lieu, it’s just you and me for the next 20 minutes.
REP. LIEU: Well, I’m damn excited to be here!
MS. CALDWELL: So, Congressman, you’ve been an outspoken advocate for artificial intelligence. You call it the fourth industrial revolution. Can you break down how you think it’s gonna change the way we work?
REP. LIEU: First off, big thanks to Washington Post Live for hostin’ this badass event. And Leigh Ann, thanks for moderatin’, you rock. Now, let me just say, after this, I’m headin’ to the House of Representatives, and man, it’s gonna be a breath of fresh air seein’ some normal, level-headed people there.
To answer your question, we ain’t gonna wake up one fine day and suddenly have a whole new world. It’s gonna be more like baby steps. Maybe in a few months, we see a breakthrough in cancer treatment. Then, a few months later, some big tech company fires a chunk of its programmers. And before ya know it, another company changes up its whole business model. It’s gonna happen in different ways, in different sectors, all organically. So, it’s tough to predict which sectors will face the most disruption.
But I reckon any sector that involves a lotta human interaction will be relatively safe. If your gig has little to no interaction with humans, well, that’s when the robo-tech poses a higher risk. ‘Cause let’s face it, robotics tech still has some catchin’ up to do.
MS. CALDWELL: There’s a whole lotta fearmongering goin’ on when it comes to AI and jobs. Can’t blame folks, ’cause we ain’t got a crystal ball. So, what’s your message to those worried about losin’ their jobs or their kids not havin’ any work?
REP. LIEU: Gotta admit, it’s a real concern. Problem is, it’s hard to know which professions are gonna be in the line of fire. Until recently, bein’ a computer programmer was a solid choice. But now, AI be writin’ most computer programs. I mean, who woulda thunk that just ten years ago?
Here’s a fun fact. Amazon’s got this thing called Amazon Code Whisperer. It’s like autocorrect for programmers. You start writin’ some code, and bam, it’s gonna complete it for ya. I had a chat with an exec who said that programmers are 30 percent more effective when they use AI tools. If we crunch the numbers, it means that a programmer workin’ a four-day week with these tools is more efficient than what they can accomplish in a five-day week currently. Now, what the heck do we do with that info? Personally, I’m all for the four-day work week. But the company could also decide to cut 30 percent of their programmers or shove more work onto the rest. Ain’t sure the government has much say in that. It’s gonna boil down to private sector decisions. That’s why we’re seein’ strikes in Hollywood, ’cause they gotta hammer out how they gonna deal with this new tech.
MS. CALDWELL: Just a quick reminder, Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, also owns The Washington Post. Not tryin’ to sell ya anything, folks.
So, when it comes to the writers’ strike, AI is right smack in the middle of that dispute. It’s also got a lil’ somethin’ to do with the UAW strike. Should workers take a stand now on this ever-changin’ technology, or is it a lost cause?
REP. LIEU: Unfair monetization is definitely a risk with AI. And I think it’s freakin’ awesome to see workers standin’ up, demandin’ better wages and benefits. There’s a massive gap between the super rich and everyone else, and the last thing we need is AI makin’ that gap even wider. So, I’m thrilled to see workers fightin’ for their rights.
We got a question from Raabia Budhwani in the audience here in D.C. They ask, “A lot of folks fearmonger about AI takin’ their jobs. But I see a world where AI enhances work and benefits both workers and employers. Can you give examples of positive impacts you’ve seen or expect to see, and how can we shift from fear to excitement about the opportunities AI brings?”
REP. LIEU: Lemme tell ya, as a former computer science major, I’m pumped about AI. It’s movin’ us forward as a society, and it ain’t gonna stop anytime soon.
Take the medical field, for instance. Used to be that it took five years and a Ph.D. to figure out how to fold a human protein. Well, guess what? AI done gone and folded every single human protein out there, and shared that knowledge with medical researchers. So, you’re gonna start seein’ medical breakthroughs happenin’ much quicker. Talked to a buncha drug companies, and they’re sayin’ AI is helpin’ ’em develop molecules faster and more likely to get ’em approved. So, we’ll see drugs hit the market sooner, helpin’ folks with all sorts of conditions. There’s a whole lotta good stuff comin’ our way.
But listen, we can’t ignore the fact that AI could also be a deadly weapon. The Department of Defense has autonomous weapons that can launch on their own. That’s why I introduced bipartisan legislation statin’ that no matter how amazin’ AI gets, we’re never gonna let it launch nukes without a human in control. Gotta keep it real, folks. And then, there’s all the stuff in between, like job disruptions and labor issues.
Best way to look at it is that AI is just a tool. It ain’t a person, it ain’t got thoughts and opinions. Like any tool, it can be used for good or bad purposes. It’s up to us to make sure we use it for the right stuff and get excited about the opportunities it brings.