Mar 13, 2017

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How Artificial Intelligence Is Defining The Future Of Work

The biggest threat to today’s workforce is something so deeply integrated into our lives that we’d probably consider it a competitive advantage on most days:


Its meteoric rate of advance and apparent ability to improve without human intervention (we’ll get to this later) is catapulting the new professional into an age where artificial intelligence is synonymous with superior intelligence.

The World Economic Forum suggests that almost half of subject knowledge acquired during the first year of a four-year technical degree will be outdated by the time graduation day comes around, and that by 2020, more than a third of the essential skill sets required by the vast majority of jobs will consist of skills that are not currently thought of as crucial to the occupation.1

That sort of sentiment is supported by leaders such as Esteban Bullrich, the Argentine Minister of Education, who states: “A child today can expect to change jobs at least seven times over the course of their lives – and five of those jobs don’t exist yet.”2

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Let’s take a deeper look at some examples of the power of artificial intelligence, the effect that artificial intelligence will have on jobs, and solutions for the working professionals of the future.


How artificial intelligence will affect jobs

“We’re at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity,” cries world-renowned theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking.3

The automation of tasks has already had an impact on jobs in traditional manufacturing – an impact that Hawking believes is set to extend into the middle classes. The worry is that the broader result of this automation through artificial intelligence could mean even greater economic inequality worldwide, as it allows small groups of individuals to do the same work while employing fewer people for higher profit.

“This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.” says Hawking.

Seems like a big deal, right?

Despite the looming doom forecast by Hawking and others, there’s also a demonstration of the power of artificial intelligence that impresses before it prompts worry at the potential negative effects of this power applied elsewhere.

Google Translate, after transitioning from phrase-based translation to a new engine called Google Neural Machine Translation (GNMT), whereby Translate basically became “smart”, invented its own language in order to output more accurate translations.

Let that sink in.

A machine created its own set of rules in order to reach a goal, without human interference – it completed an action it was not coded to perform.


Jobs that will be most affected by artificial intelligence

Job roles affected by artificial intelligence sit in one of two camps: Replaced or Augmented.

The roles sitting in “Replaced” require a higher degree of repeated, similar tasks — although not necessarily exclusively so — in fields ranging from finance, insurance and construction, to inventory managers, farmers, and taxi drivers. Although aspects of theses roles will be replaced at different times in the future, their time is, on average, more limited than jobs in “Augmented”.

According to a McKinsey report4, humans will still outclass tech in subclasses of:

  • Cognitive ability, such as problem-solving using contextual information
  • Natural language processing (sorry Google Translate), where the goal is understanding based, in part, on nuanced human interaction
  • Social and emotional capabilities, where the requirements are to identify and respond appropriately to social and emotional states

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Job roles that will either be augmented or otherwise largely unaffected by advances in artificial intelligence rely largely on skills including or related to the points above. Think along the lines of talent management, entertainment and design – as well as any position requiring traditional leadership.

A report by ManpowerGroup5 states that “creativity, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility are skills that will tap human potential and allow people to augment robots, rather than be replaced by them.”


How can you benefit from artificial intelligence?

Beyond cutting wires, pulling plugs and retreating to a cabin in the woods for a career in only-just-surviving, the answer is relatively simple: adapt, as millions have before.

One of the best ways to adapt to the disruption AI will bring, is by committing to learning.

A report on artificial intelligence by Citi predicts that working professionals will, to some extent, be required to retrain in their lifetime as machines replace the traditional workforce. What this highlights — as mentioned in Citi’s report — is the need to invest in ongoing education in order to “mitigate the impact of increased automation and AI.”6

Lifelong learning is the weapon with which to fight future irrelevance.

Chairman & CEO of ManpowerGroup, Jonas Prising, called the act of helping people adapt to the pace of change in the working world “the defining challenge of our time.”5

Not impossible, but a challenge nonetheless.

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He goes on to say, “Now is the time for leaders to be responsive and responsible: we cannot slow the rate of technological advance or globalisation, but we can invest in employees’ skills to increase the resilience of our people and organisations. Individuals also need to nurture their learnability: their desire and ability to learn new skills to stay relevant and remain employable.”

Devin Wenig, President and CEO of eBay adds to the conversation: “In the very near future we won’t have the same jobs that we have today, but new jobs will be created. We must empower people with the right education and opportunities. I believe our greatest days are ahead of us, but this rests on embracing our most promising technologies — and shaping them — to lift people up and create opportunity at all levels.”7

Maybe we’re just making a lot of noise about the relatively new, shiny object that is artificial intelligence because we’re not exactly sure how to use it yet.

While we shout about the power of AI, its impact on jobs and what that means for the new working professional, we should also remember that its impact isn’t restricted to negative outcomes. Think about those routine tasks you’d rather let someone else do so you’re free to focus on more fulfilling ones.

Technology can be that “someone else”.

Erik Brynjolfsson, Director of the MIT Initiative for the Digital Economy — whose purpose is to examine the question “How do we thrive in a period of profound digital transformation?” — had this to say about the conversation at 2017’s edition of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos:

“The biggest misconception I’ve heard…is this idea that technology is going to come for all of our jobs and there’s nothing we can do about it. The reality is that it’s a more powerful tool than we have ever had before, that means we have more power to shape it going forward.”8

Doesn’t that make the hype around artificial intelligence sound like another case of “Keep Calm and…”?



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Filed under: Systems & technology