In a recent tweet, Nithin Kamath, the founder of Zerodha, shared an internal note written by Kailash Nadh, the company’s CTO, addressing the potential impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on jobs. Nadh’s note emphasized that AI itself does not pose an immediate threat to humanity, but rather it is the current capitalist and economic systems that, with the rapid adoption of AI, could exacerbate inequality and diminish human agency. This, according to Nadh, is the immediate risk society faces.
Kailash Nadh, the CTO of Zerodha, stands out from the typical stereotype of a chief technology officer in a unicorn company. Unlike many tech executives who manage large teams of software engineers, Nadh oversees a team of just 30 coders, which has remained unchanged for the past few years. This is in contrast to the trend of frequent job changes and salary hikes experienced by tech professionals during a bullish market, as well as the wave of layoffs that occurred during a funding downturn.
Interestingly, Nadh’s role at Zerodha doesn’t involve the pressure to rapidly release new products and features. Instead, the stock trading platform prioritizes a thorough process of software development and testing before launching anything new.
Kailash Nadh, the CTO of Zerodha, enjoys the luxury of time to focus on building open-source software and contemplating broader issues. His unique approach has earned him the admiration and respect of Zerodha’s founder, Nithin Kamath, who considers Nadh, his “guru.”
In interviews with potential hires, Nadh goes beyond the traditional technical discussions and delves into personal and philosophical topics. This distinctive approach has resulted in a selective hiring process, with only two candidates successfully joining the team in the past four years.
The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Software Engineering Jobs
Interestingly, Zerodha, being a bootstrapped fintech company, has proposed an AI policy that assures no employee layoffs due to the redundancy of specific roles resulting from the implementation of AI technology.
Moneycontrol had the opportunity to engage in multiple conversations with Kailash Nadh, who has an AI-focused Ph.D. completed over a decade ago. These discussions aimed to gain insights into Nadh’s perspectives on various aspects of AI, including its potential societal impact, the challenges posed by its “black box” nature, philosophical dilemmas associated with AI, and more.
The impact of AI on software engineering jobs can vary depending on the nature of the work. While complex and scalable systems still require human expertise, lower-end tasks like system configuration and maintenance can be significantly affected. AI tools have already shown promise in accelerating software debugging and reducing the need for extensive manual searches. However, the extent to which AI will obsolesce software engineering jobs remains uncertain.
Historically, software teams were lean, but with the growth-focused approach in recent years, larger teams have become the norm. The increased productivity resulting from AI tools might reverse this trend, but it’s hard to predict with certainty.
The Societal Implications of AI-Driven Job Displacement
As for Zerodha’s tech team, their small size and diverse responsibilities make automation less imminent. However, in larger teams with more distributed work, automating software development could be easier.
In the case of IT services companies, their extensive hiring is often driven by business structure rather than technology. Repetitive tasks involved in maintaining and patching legacy systems for clients can be more easily replaced by generative AI coding. However, the adoption of AI in this sector may take time due to the prevalence of outdated technologies and the lack of creative programmers available for maintenance work.
The potential timeline for these changes is uncertain. Economic pressures and the cost-effectiveness of automation could drive organizations to reconsider the need for large workforces. While previous technological advancements mostly impacted blue-collar jobs, white-collar jobs are now also facing the risk of disruption. The potential loss of middle-class jobs and the ensuing socio-economic consequences are speculative but raise concerns about social order and equity.
Rather than focusing on owning equity or pursuing creative work, the priority should be on maintaining social order, the rule of law, and stable markets. Speculating extensively about AI-driven scenarios may be dangerous, but the potential for social disruption resulting from job displacement is more plausible than the threat of sentient AI attempting to eliminate humanity.
At Zerodha, automating 20 percent of jobs is within reach, and with more resources, this percentage could potentially increase to 40-50 percent. However, achieving full automation is unlikely. Certain tasks, such as handling physical forms and making content-based decisions, continue to require human involvement, though meaningful automation opportunities exist.