Am I Losing My Job To Artificial Intelligence?

Another round of man v. machines is upon us with the rising influence of artificial intelligence.
AI threatening jobs

If there were an equivalent of Spotify Wrapped for all things viral last year, artificial intelligence (AI) would certainly top everyone’s lists. To say that it’s the talk of the town is to understate the frenzy it had caused. From those eerily realistic deepfakes of Tom Cruise on TikTok to the doctored images of a too-cool-for-school Pope Francis in Balenciaga puffer, machine learning was a discovery that was as impressive as it was intimidating.

But not even halfway through the year, cracks began to show as it dawned on us that this advanced technology was a spectrum with a downside. Hollywood, for instance, was left in limbo after writers foresaw the bleak future ahead with major studios moving ever so slyly to implement AI in their multimillion-dollar productions, which could render the writer’s room obsolete. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) in due course authorised a strike after the contract renegotiation with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) reached a dead end.

Perseverance paid off in the end as the AMPTP caved into the WGA’s stipulations on AI protection and other pressing matters—after a five-month battle. It was a historic arrangement that then set the tone for the union’s SAG-AFTRA counterpart—an organisation that represents approximately 160,000 actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, and other media professionals—which greenlit its own labour stoppage.

Seeing that the sweeping influence of AI being treated with such urgency abroad makes it even more jarring that it is barely reflected in our industry. Here, AI has already been integrated into several major media companies. Astro Awani’s first foray into it brought forth AI news anchors Joon and Monica. Fly FM also jumped on the bandwagon with its AI radio announcer Aina Sabrina who now goes on air from 2 PM to 4 PM on weekdays.

AI entities occupying spaces that are meant for humans are a cause for concern if one bothers to look past the sheen. Although some fears may be allayed with Astro Awani’s editor-in-chief Ashwad Ismail establishing the channel’s position in the matter, reportedly saying that the AI anchors “are not intended to challenge or replace existing talents”, differing viewpoints such as Fly FM content director Sean Matjeraie’s, claiming that “DJ Aina is the definition of a brand new phase for the Malaysian radio industry”, carried a more sinister undertone and left plenty of room for interpretation.

AI threatening jobs

But even with the rising popularity of AI and the uncertainty of what lies ahead, the reactions among industry players have been fairly muted. I had to reach out to independent journalist and a former colleague of mine, Zaidi Azmi, to see if there had been chatters in his media circle. “Just one or two. Malaysian journalists are too lazy to think about these things because it hasn’t affected their livelihood yet,” he said on the line. To this, I say: If curiosity is what killed the cat, complacency might just be the death of our media practitioners.

While it is true that there have yet to be reports on just how disruptive AI can be—although it’s already linked to the layoffs in Silicon Valley—it is not a good enough reason for one to sit idle. Zaidi supposed that the AI craze is a frontloaded trend that would flatline sooner or later. “Sure, companies would enjoy the ‘benefits’ in the beginning. But they will change their tune when they realise that all the copies sound the same,” he said.

I tend to disagree. AI is growing at an accelerated pace— mind you that OpenAI’s ChatGPT is still in its infancy, turning a year old last November, and it has taken the world by storm. Who’s to say where it will be in the next five years? It could very well replicate our cadence by then—learning from our original creations and positioning itself as a substitute. After all, it is what’s driving The New York Times to pursue legal actions against OpenAI and Microsoft. The only way to safeguard our future is to impose strict regulations on AI.

Perhaps the news that the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI) is working on the code of ethics and governance for AI could bring some solace to the community. Minister Chang Lih Kang took to Facebook in October 2023 to announce that MOSTI was collaborating with Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, representatives of government agencies, higher education institutions, and industry players to develop the said code, which is slated to be presented sometime this year. On top of that, the ministry is looking into creating a legal framework and the AI Act.

The fact of the matter is that AI is a still-growing technology that’s not yet fully understood. Regardless of its advantages and capabilities, there still needs to be limitations put in place lest it is weaponised by those in power to exploit the rank and file. Who knows if it’s the only thing standing between a congruent social landscape and a lawless, post-apocalyptic wasteland? It is better for us to be accused of blowing things out of proportion today than condemned for lacking foresight tomorrow.