digibyte - keeping your skills one step ahead of the robots

Profile picture for user jreed By Jon Reed July 8, 2015
Summary:
Just about every day, I tag a post in my reader about the impact of robots and automation on the workforce. While these pieces differ in their optimism, most have constructive suggestions for how white collar workers should approach their careers

Just about every day, I tag a post in my Newsblur reader about the impact of robots and automation on the workforce. Some are downright optimistic (robots will free us from the industrial age to reach our human potential); some are more sobering (few jobs, blue or white collar, are safe).

While these pieces differ in their optimism, most have constructive suggestions for how white collar workers should approach their careers given the proliferation of robots and AI, as well as the automation of many tasks we never suspected could be automated (e.g. certain kinds of news article writing - this article excepted).

Most career advice for life amongst the robots separates into winners (e.g. "the creative class") versus losers (those who are prime for replacement, which might include, for example, truck drivers). Fast Company's What Work Will Look Like in 2025 is one example of this brand of advice:

Who wins? Specialists, the creative class, and people who have jobs that require emotional intelligence like salespeople, coaches, customer-service specialists, and people who create everything from writing and art to new products, platforms and services. Jobs in health care, personal services, and other areas that are tough to automate will also remain in demand, as will trade skills and science, technology and mathematics (STEM) skills, says Mark J. Schmit, PhD, executive director of the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia.

Skills with creative and unstructured tasks, along with the ability to navigate through the nuances of humor and sarcasm, were cited by Business Insider:

While it is hard to fully anticipate the consequences of this major societal shift towards intelligent machines, we can find comfort in the fact that we still have a leg up on robots for certain jobs: ones that require judgment, creative thinking, and human interaction. "For a long time, artificial intelligence has been better than us at highly structured, bounded tasks," Calo explains. "What it has not been good at, and likely won't be good at anytime soon, are the more unstructured tasks." Computer scientists generally agree that manipulating language — cracking jokes and detecting sarcasm — is beyond the capability of machines; with such rapid advancements however, an intelligent machine could be writing an article about humans before we know it.

Sidenote: low level article writing is already happening, over at a small shop known as the Associated Press.

But the other common view is that to remain employable, we must learn to live amongst the machines. That jives with my semi-sarcastic quip that the jobs of the future will be: designing robots, managing robots, fixing robots, or fighting robots. In How Knowledge Workers Can Save Their Jobs In The "Bring Your Own Robot" Age, Gil Press offers job advice from authors Thomas Davenport and Julia Kirby:

  • Find a job a computer cannot do (step up)
  • Choose a career where specific human characteristics (e.g., empathy) are needed (step aside)
  • Monitoring and modifying the work of computers (step in)
  • Find a specialty that wouldn’t be economical to automate; (step narrowly)
  • Develop the next generation of computing and AI tools. (step forward)

(Hey, that sounds eerily similar to my cynical quip).

Finally, while I found the happy talk of  Better than human: why robots must - and will - take our jobs   idealistic to the point of absurdity, Kevin Kelly's view on learning how to work amongst the robots does ring true:

This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots. Ninety percent of your coworkers will be unseen machines. Most of what you do will not be possible without them. And there will be a blurry line between what you do and what they do.

Though Kelly loses me when he says:

You might no longer think of it as a job, at least at first, because anything that seems like drudgery will be done by robots.

I hope Kelly is right about our post-industrial utopia. But in case he is wrong - and I'm pretty freakin' certain he is - we'd best take the rest of the career advice in this article seriously.

Image credit: Friendship between high technology and people. Concept © Inok - Fotolia.com

Disclosure: I wrote this piece on a machine, but it was compiled by hand.