(Bloomberg) — The largest layoffs in the 116-year history of United Parcel Service Inc. were made possible, in part, by new technologies including artificial intelligence, CEO Carol Toomey said last week. Citing an example, he said machine learning allows salespeople to put together proposals without asking pricing experts for guidance.
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UPS is one of a growing number of companies that are tackling a two-pronged approach to AI: showing investors how AI can help them do more with less while also directly combating the technology with job cuts. It also avoids the fear of connecting. A UPS spokesperson later said that AI is not replacing workers, and executives made no clear connection between AI and permanent layoffs on the company’s earnings call.
BlackRock Inc. said last month it would lay off about 600 employees. In a memo to employees, CEO Larry Fink and Chairman Rob Capito pointed to dramatic industry shifts “and perhaps most profoundly, new technologies are poised to transform our industry – and every other industry.” While Fink has been vocal about his belief in AI’s ability to turbocharge productivity, the new technology was not cited as a reason for the cuts. According to the memo, the asset manager still expects to have a larger staff by the end of the year as it expands parts of the business.
Experts are struggling to get an accurate picture of how many jobs are being lost as AI advances rapidly. Since last May, U.S. companies have announced more than 4,600 job cuts to free up resources for hiring people with AI experience or because technology has replaced the tasks, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & But this estimate is “definitely lower” than the “true total,” according to Christmas Inc.