‘Training My Replacement’: Inside a Call Center Worker’s Battle With A.I.

“Yeah, that’s crazy,” Ms. Sherrod’s friend replied. “What do you think about us?”

Like so many millions of American workers, across so many thousands of workplaces, the roughly 230 customer service representatives at AT&T’s call center in Ocean Springs, Miss., watched artificial intelligence arrive over the past year both rapidly and assuredly, like a new manager settling in and kicking up its feet.

Suddenly, the customer service workers weren’t taking their own notes during calls with customers. Instead, an A.I. tool generated a transcript, which their managers could later consult. A.I. technology was providing suggestions of what to tell customers. Customers were also spending time on phone lines with automated systems, which solved simple questions and passed on the complicated ones to human representatives.

Ms. Sherrod, 38, who exudes quiet confidence at 5-foot-11, regarded the new technology with a combination of irritation and fear. “I always had a question in the back of my mind,” she said. “Am I training my replacement?”

Ms. Sherrod, a vice president of the call center’s local union chapter, part of the Communications Workers of America, started asking AT&T managers questions. “If we don’t talk about this, it could jeopardize my family,” she said. “Will I be jobless?”

In recent months, the A.I. chatbot ChatGPT has made its way into courtrooms, classrooms, hospitals and everywhere in between. With it has come speculation about A.I.’s impact on jobs. To many people, A.I. feels like a ticking time bomb, sure to explode their work. But to some, like Ms. Sherrod, the threat of A.I. isn’t abstract. They can already feel its effects.