ChatGPT is coming for the workplace

How can employers be prepared?

In November, OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research outfit backed with billions of dollars from Microsoft, Elon Musk, and others, released ChatGPT, an artificially intelligent chatbot that scours the web to produce responses to questions or prompts. Since its launch, the application has been downloaded more than 100 million times and has caused a litany of articles and blog posts both extolling and bemoaning its potential.  For example, ChatGPT can write essays on complex topics and has also passed medical and law school exams. Microsoft is incorporating ChatGPT into its Bing search engine, in a potential threat to Google’s long-standing dominance in this market. 

What might ChatGPT mean for the workplace?

There are already reports of job applicants who are using the application to help write resumes and cover letters. This practice is particularly interesting when juxtaposed against employers’ increased use of technology or AI in their hiring processes to identify strong candidates and to remove bias from the interview and hiring process. (The latter of which has not always worked.)

As a result, in at least some cases, we may begin to see a battle of AI applications. Nevertheless, no technology is perfect, and ChatGPT is in its commercial infancy. The potential use of these programs may force a greater emphasis on in-person interviews and assessments. Technology may be able to help someone improve their paperwork sufficiently to secure an initial interview, but the employer should then test the initial submissions with a human eye.

Additionally, employers may want to add a checkbox to their application portals where applicants must affirm that they did not have technological or AI assistance in completing the application and creating the requested documents. A fraudulent representation on this issue, if discovered later, could provide ground for termination.

The next concern is that employees will use ChatGPT to help them do their jobs. This is not necessarily a bad thing. ChatGPT is clearly a remarkable tool with a literally inhuman ability to review, analyze, and explain a limitless variety of data and information. ChatGPT could thus save many hours of work. But it might also be wrong. Employers and employees thus need to evaluate and discuss openly the potential and appropriate uses of artificial intelligence in their work. Part of that process should of course include human review of ChatGPT’s findings. But eventually, it can be anticipated that employees will generally be able to use AI to perform their work more efficiently and accurately.

Finally, there is the risk that ChatGPT could replace certain types of employees. The work of entry-level researchers and analysts may be done more efficiently with artificial intelligence. Various customer service positions are already being replaced with chatbots and other automated systems. Employers, as they always have, will thus consider whether ChatGPT can make their company operate more efficiently by reducing headcount. Fortunately, research has generally shown that although automation may displace some jobs, on the whole, the increased efficiencies result in a net gain of jobs, just in different, often technology-related fields.

It will probably take several years before we can accurately assess ChatGPT’s effect on society, if any. But it's here now, and employers would be wise to begin to grapple with its prospects.

Robin Shea has 30 years' experience in employment litigation, including Title VII and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act (including the Amendments Act). 
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