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Knowledge workers don’t seem to think AI will replace them—but they expect it to save them 4 hours a week in the next year



Thanks to generative AI, we’re witnessing a transformative shift in the workplace for knowledge workers. The rapid pace of adoption is unlike anything we’ve experienced before, and it could end up being more influential than the arrival of the PC, the internet, social media, mobile, and cloud technology transitions that preceded it.

According to our recent global study of more than 2,200 professionals working in the fields of law, tax, accounting, risk, compliance, and other knowledge fields, there’s a tremendous sense of excitement about the here-and-now and future potential of generative AI to improve their work—not to mention their work-life balance.

Professionals now have a better sense of how AI will affect their work—and in some cases, it already is. Our second annual Future of Professionals survey found that 63% of the people we polled have already used gen AI in their day-to-day work to draft documents, summarize information, and perform basic research. Notably, more than three-quarters of the professionals surveyed consider AI a force for good—and that’s true across different geographies and professions. Respondents predicted that more than half of professional work will use AI-powered technology in five years.

The most commonly predicted benefits of new AI-powered technologies include the greater value it will bring to their work (38% of respondents), increased efficiency and productivity (26%), and freed-up time (28%). This overall positive sentiment around AI may be all the more significant because it provides a measurable counter-narrative to the doom-and-gloom predictions that this technology will destroy jobs. In fact, only 10% of respondents were concerned about widespread job losses in their industry.

Time savings and more meaningful work

It’s not the first time that the workplace has seen tech-driven transformations. I think about my grandmother, who was one of the first women in Australia to work in a bank and spent her days manually adding columns of data by hand. Personal computers and spreadsheet software made calculating data by hand obsolete, but it didn’t end the profession of accounting.

Similarly, AI has the potential to automate labor-intensive or routine tasks to transform the way professional work is done and make a career in these fields more appealing. Professionals predict that work will be more fulfilling with less time spent on the type of tasks that AI could most easily address.

Nearly 60% of respondents want to see their profession focus on a better work-life balance in the future, while 42% would like to spend more time on engaging, creative work. In short, professional careers could become more appealing. Such changes could be particularly significant in the U.S. accounting industry, which in recent years has had trouble attracting young people to the field.

By automating the most routine tasks, our report shows that professionals predict AI could free up as much as four hours a week in the next year. What will they do with 200 extra hours of time a year? Maybe they’ll have more time to spend on their non-work lives. Or they might reinvest some of that time in more strategic work, innovation, and professional development.

For U.S. lawyers alone, that would represent a collective 266 million hours of increased productivity. That’s the equivalent of adding an additional colleague for every 10 already on a team. It translates to more than $100,000 in new, billable time per lawyer each year, based on current average rates, with similar value and productivity gains projected across various professions.

In five years, our respondents predicted, the time savings could amount to 12 hours a week, more than 620 hours a year. Imagine the broader impact on the economy and GDP from this increased efficiency.

The real concerns of knowledge workers

Of course, change naturally makes some people nervous—and for good reason. The top concern among professionals is that people will rely too much on AI-powered technology rather than using their professional judgment. Many also worry about the accuracy of gen AI results, which is why almost two-thirds of respondents said a human’s involvement in the loop is crucial for responsible use.

We can also expect bad actors to try to wield new technology in nefarious ways. Two-thirds of respondents cited data security as a concern.

Government workers were the most concerned about the use of AI in their sector. And the vast majority of professionals in the legal and tax sectors indicated that allowing AI to represent clients in court or make final decisions would be a step too far.

Concerns around ethics and oversight only heighten the imperative that we as a tech community build AI applications responsibly and ethically. Because there are not yet generally agreed-upon ethics around gen AI, there have been controversies surrounding its use, such as the collection of personal and copyrighted data from online sources to build large language models.

The future of AI is not predestined—it is ours to shape. We welcome the collaboration of the broader tech community in responsibly pushing innovation forward while embracing the benefits this transformative technology can bring.

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The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary pieces are solely the views of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.

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