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5 Examples Of How Brands Are Replacing Their Employees With AI

By June 20, 2024No Comments

(This column originally appeared in Forbes)

Whenever you read about a large company deploying AI they will never say the obvious: this technology is replacing employees.

They’ll instead say how it’s “making their people more productive” or that it’s “enhancing the customer experience” or how the technology is “adding more tools” for their workers. All of that is true. But in the end it’s all about doing more with less and in this case it’s less people.

AI is just another technology to accomplish this. It’s certainly not the first. There’s been a history of robotics, bots, workflows, alerts and other automation tools to do work in place of people. It’s just that AI’s progress has been faster and brands in financial services, restaurants and even education are using it to simply replace people. Already it’s happening. Here are five recent examples.

There’s Klarna, the Swedish-based buy-now-pay-later service which announced in February that its OpenAI-powered customer service chatbot system was doing the work of “700 customer service agents” and doing it faster and more accurately. “What that means to me is that we become brutally efficient, both in the resources we use but more importantly, in the results that we can create,” the company’s Chief Marketing Officer recently told the Wall Street Journal. What that means to me is more work being done with less people. Are you a customer service agent at Klarna? Better dust off that resume.

The New York Times reported that large financial services companies like Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley are introducing AI tools that “can replace much of Wall Street’s entry-level white-collar work,” like preparing spreadsheets, creating PowerPoints and analyzing financial data. Imagine putting in 100 hour weeks just to be replaced by a bot. Not that there’s a great deal of sympathy for those on Wall Street, but it’s still a sign of the times: more technology means less need for humans doing this kind of work and if there’s any industry that’s cutthroat enough to make these changes quickly and without remorse it’s investment banking.

According to USA Today, electronics retailer Best Buy “has made a significant cut to its workforce and laid off a number of employees, including Geek Squad field agents, current and former workers,” while at the same time announcing a new “AI venture” with Google that will use “generative AI to provide our customers with even more personalized, best-in-class tech support experiences.” And you thought tech jobs were safe? Apparently not. Why employ a geek when a large language model can answer customers’ questions faster and more accurately?

The benefits of AI are already starting to trickle down to small businesses, where companies like Bloomington, Illinois’ Little Beaver Brewery and Burning Rice, an Asian eatery in the Dallas area, are using platforms like to literally answer the phones when customers call and automatically book their reservation. “By 2030, we will save businesses and consumers one billion minutes of precious time while transforming branded voice experiences into the preferred mode of communication,” boasts on its website. That’s almost 700,00 days of work that would have been formerly done by people. won’t say they’re replacing people. But they are. And I bet they’ll do well at it.

Even local governments are getting into action. The Texas Education Agency is rolling out a “new artificial intelligence-powered scoring system set to replace a majority of human graders in the region.” The Texas Tribune reports that “The agency is expecting the system to save $15–20 million per year by reducing the need for temporary human scorers, with plans to hire under 2,000 graders this year compared to the 6,000 required in 2023.” True, those tax dollars saved will likely be offset by unemployment payouts but hey…it’s progress, right?

Are you seeing the writing on the wall? There are all sorts of studies and research that shows how many jobs will be lost to AI, with some — like Goldman Sachs — projecting as many as 300 million people being left unemployed worldwide by 2030, which really isn’t so far away. Does this concern you? It shouldn’t.

Over history, large numbers of professions and occupations have been lost to technology. Blacksmiths, typing pools, data entry clerks, switchboard operators, elevator attendants, bank tellers, and even knocker-uppers, (now get your mind out of the gutter, they were paid to knock on people’s windows in order to wake them up because there were no alarm clocks) and lamp-lighters (who manually lit and extinguished street lamps each day) are no longer a thing. In just the past 20 years we’ve seen travel agents, cashiers, photographers, postal workers, video store clerks and TV repairman mostly cancelled thanks to tech (for some reason, there are still plenty of translators, go figure). Regardless, AI will claim many more.

But, thanks to AI, we now have “prompt engineers” and “AI managers’ and testers and engineers and consultants and trainers and all sorts of new jobs created. According to Ernst & Young generative AI venture capital investment globally is on track to reach $12 billion in 2024. Most of this money is funding new startups and expansions of existing organizations. It’s a whole new industry with countless new companies. When companies expand they need managers and staffers and people that still have to do the marketing, accounting, finance, sales and operations because there will also be a need for humans to do this stuff and AI will never be able to do it all autonomously (at least not in the foreseeable future).

Whether big brands publicly admit it, the fact is that they are using AI to replace people. But don’t worry. Like other industrial and technological revolutions, humans will figure out other things to do with their time.

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