ChatGPT is tipped to cause massive job cuts across the services sector, a pillar of Cyprus’ economy. ALIX NORMAN finds out who will be affected and gives this new tech a whirl

As a journalist always on the lookout for innovative technology, I recently had the chance to put ChatGPT to the test. I was curious to see how well this cutting-edge AI system could handle my questions and provide accurate and concise answers. The results? Simply remarkable!

I didn’t write those words. That first paragraph was generated by ChatGPT, in answer to my request to ‘write a lead from the point of view of a journalist trying out ChatGPT’.

On first reading, I wasn’t worried. The construction is good and the word choice decent, but there’s nothing to catch the eye other than the final bombastic claim. It’s pretty wordy. It lacks the cadence of experience. And yet I know editors who would happily accept this lead and never question the author.

Which is worrying, right? If ChatGPT can write this, what else can it do? How many of us should be seriously concerned for our livelihood – especially given that almost 75 per cent of Cyprus jobs are in the Services Sector – the area most under threat from emerging AI? Granted, ChatGPT is unlikely to replace nurses or bus drivers any time soon. But it is expected to supplant many jobs in sectors such as travel and tourism, information technology, media and entertainment, and banking – especially in trading and Fintech.

ChatGPT is basically an advanced search tool that can conduct (and create) meaningful dialogue – in any language. But this isn’t just another Alexa or Siri. ChatGPT is trained to answer follow-up questions, challenge incorrect premises, and even reject inappropriate queries. And where it gets truly terrifying is that this technology can also complete tasks we consider essentially ‘human’ – it can compose music, create fairy tales, play games and even whip up perfectly plausible contracts!

Developed by OpenAI and launched last November, ChatGPG has been described by Elon Musk as “scarily good”. It’s already tipped to overtake Google (which is developing its own, similar version called Bard), and within five days of its release, had over a million users. And as of this month, over 100 million people purportedly use the chatbot on a daily basis.

I can see why. Using ChatGPT is like talking to a very knowledgeable friend; a digital Stephen Fry who’s incredibly intelligent and endlessly amenable. It’s a dialogue that actually returns the information you’re looking for in one succinct, written answer. Which is extremely worrying. Because isn’t that my job?

Thankfully, I’m not alone in my concern. In a recent article, listed those jobs most at risk from just such artificial intelligence. Most are in the Services Sector. Many are pillars of the Cyprus economy…

Most jeopardised are those in the tech field: coders, computer programmers, software engineers, data analysts. AI is good at accurately crunching numbers, and can write code, find and fix bugs far faster than humans. In fact, tech companies such as OpenAI are already considering replacing software engineers with AI.

Nicosia-based founder of Mojo Design Jacob Papageorgiou has been using ChatGPT for web development since its launch. “It has helped tremendously in some areas,” he reveals. “Though coding requires a human prompt, the machine does the precision grunt work. And as ChatGPT can replicate reusable code in seconds – and with less room for error than if written manually – one senior developer can now do the work of three. So yes, there’s a definite risk of layoffs in this sector.”

Advertising, technical writing, journalism, blogging – anything that involves written content – are also under threat from this new chatbot. Tech news site CNET is already generating articles through ChatGPT (a practice that caused fierce backlash on social media), and BuzzFeed is said to be replacing writers with AI left, right and centre. But in an article entitled ‘ChatGPT is amazing, creative, and totally wrong’, suggests that the chatbot doesn’t always get it right: the AI provided several incorrect answers to their questions, including the colour of uniforms for the Royal Marines and the largest country in Central America. And, given that I’ve now played around with it for a few days, I can attest to the fact that asking ChatGPT to write anything of a journalistic bent will require a great deal of fact-checking.

However, while ChatGPT occasionally provides wildly erroneous data (in one notable instance repeatedly assuring me the distance between Cyprus and the Channel Islands was roughly 1,000km!), at least it’s producing coherent replies – unlike Google, which returns a list of websites and forces you to do the work. Which means that anyone whose profession requires transforming huge amounts of data into easily digestible, factual content (such as paralegals, market researchers, traders, and accountants) may be in trouble.

Of course, if your boss hasn’t yet worked out what ChatGPT can do, you’re safe. In fact, you’re laughing. “I used to trawl 50 websites to put together a simple brief,” says a Limassol-based legal assistant who understandably wishes to remain anonymous. “It would take all day. But now, I just ask ChatGPT to write and translate for me, edit a little where necessary, and then I sit and play Minecraft – all while billing a day’s work!”

Sooner or later, however, everyone will catch on. And then we might well see axings galore – even across professions you’d think are utterly safe. Education, for example. Several tech experts have already gone on record, saying ChatGPT is already competent enough to teach middle or high school pupils. “But this,” says Nicosia-based teacher Anne Andreou, “is nonsense. I’d love to see AI trying to inspire a class of 15-year-olds to learn anything whatsoever on a Friday afternoon! Half of teaching is getting and keeping your students’ attention. No chatbot can do that.”

As for me, someone whose entire job relies on the creation of unique, correct content? Well, I guess I’ll just keep writing, fairly sure that my unusual perspective and steadfast skills will win out. After 20 years in the business, I’m fairly sure I’ve tricks up my ink-stained sleeve that no chatbot will ever know…