Thunking vs Thinking: Whose Job Does AI Automate?

Which tasks are on AI’s chopping block?

Cassie Kozyrkov
3 min readJul 28


Recent progress in AI is an evolution towards augmented individuals, unlocking personal creativity and productivity. We’re entering an era of accelerated automation, so it’s understandable if you’re eager to know what kind of upheaval — and opportunity — this will bring to your own career.

Image created by the author.

So, what kind of job does AI automate? It might be more insightful to shift our focus from ‘which jobs’ to ‘which tasks’. And to answer your burning question, I’ll have to make up a new word…

You already know what thinking is, so let me introduce its cousin: ‘thunking.’ Yes, it’s exactly that dull sound you’d hear if you tried to open a door by using your head… as a battering ram! Thunk, thunk, thunk. Maybe take a moment to think about what’s worth doing and why the door handle might be the best way forward.

For every task, there’s a thinking piece and a ‘thunking’ piece. Like the dull thunk of a brick hitting the ground, the mindless brainless task.

Remember the last time you found yourself mindlessly copying-pasting or mechanically sorting through a pile of paperwork? You likely had to put some initial thought into what to do and how to do it (and, for bonus points, why it’s worth doing in the first place) but after that, it was thunking all the way as your eyes glazed over and you executed on your own instructions.

Thunking is the term I’ve coined to describe those tasks that are repetitive, predictable, and don’t require a high level of cognitive engagement, creativity, or critical thinking. These are the tasks that you can do almost on autopilot once you’ve figured out what needs to be done.

There are some tasks that require creativity, ingenuity, sparks of brilliance, cognitive engagement… the best of us as humans. And other tasks that don’t.

No matter how fancy-sounding your job title is, you almost surely spend at least some — if not most — of your day thunking. It’s the data entry, the scheduling, the…



Cassie Kozyrkov

Chief Decision Scientist, Google. ❤️ Stats, ML/AI, data, puns, art, theatre, decision science. All views are my own.