Whatever you do at your job, chances are that you’ve considered the possibility that you could one day lose your livelihood to a robot. Until a system like universal basic income comes into play (and arguably even then!), the risk of A.I. stealing our employment is the existential threat of our age. But things don’t have to look so dismal.
As Terminator protagonist Sarah Connor once told us, we can make our own future. At the very least, we can configure it to our advantage. What tips can we pass on to ensure that you don’t find yourself downsized in favor of a robot? Read on to find out.
Get on the right side of disruption
You don’t have to be Clayton Christensen to know that technology is disrupting a bunch of industries right now. (Including the one you work in, most likely!) Whether this disruption is a good thing or not depends on which side of it you’re on.
If you’re one of the disrupted, there’s something like a 47 percent chance that your current job won’t exist for humans in the next 15 years. If, on the other hand, you’re one of the disruptors, you’ve got an amazing opportunity to get your hands on a larger-than-ever piece of the pie.
The single best way to make sure you’re not replaced by robots? Be the one who owns the robot, builds the robot, maintains the robot, or tells the robot what to do. Not all of us can be tech entrepreneurs, but learning to code and understand the new technologies which shape our lives is essential.
Pick an intersection and master it
A.I. and other forms of automation are taking over just about every area of employment. The bad part of that? No job — whether it’s being a lawyer, a pharmacist, a bricklayer or a journalist — is totally safe. The good part? A lot of the intersections between computer science and more established disciplines are still ripe for the picking.
If you’re just now choosing your career, don’t think that you have to limit yourself to a purely technical job like coding. Combining a subject like computer science with, say, law opens up a plethora of new specialisms that are still short on experts. That expert could be you.
The artisan economy
Artisans are workers who produce things by hand. Today, it’s most often used to describe high-quality, exclusive goods or services that are produced in small quantities or feature one-on-one interactions.
While it’s hard to predict which tasks will be automated in the years to come (tasks such as driving a car or translating a document seemed impossible just a few years ago), there’s a good chance that if you have a “high touch” job in which the human element is important, you’ll be safe.
For this to hold true, you need to be honest about how much or how little the human element adds to an experience. In some cases, it may be an unnecessary step which could be eliminated (see: the rise of the self-service checkout at supermarkets). In others, that human touch means a level of empathy, creativity and, frankly, humanness that you’ll never get from a robot.
Would you prefer that your elderly mom had a human caregiver or a robot? Would you rather hire a human math tutor for your kid than sign them up for a learning app? Now that robots and A.I. are capable of carrying out a growing number of tasks, it’s up to society to determine which jobs we want to be performed by humans and machines.
If you can become a genuine artisan in your chosen career, you’re onto a winner!
Know your enemy
This point builds on the one above and is about honing your skills for the digital age. Right now, machines can do a whole lot of tasks, but they can’t always do every aspect of every task. In factory work, for instance, robots frequently work side by side with humans, who can carry out some of the precise work that robot grabbers are not yet capable of.
Amazon’s factories use robots to bring shelves to human workers, who pick off the right items and box them up for shipments. Twitter, meanwhile, employs human “judges” to help make sense of certain trending topics for Twitter’s algorithms. Similar examples of skills A.I. is not yet capable of can be seen in every industry.
Knowing what skills A.I. and robots currently lack can help reveal where opportunities still lie — which brings us to our next point…
Technology changes all the time. Just because it wasn’t capable of carrying out certain tasks a decade ago (or heck, even just last month) doesn’t mean that the same will hold true in the future. Due to the rapid pace of technological advancement, new threats will almost certainly appear as time passes.
You might be aware of robots and machine learning, and how they could risk putting you out of a job. But knowing the current threats isn’t enough. Keep your eyes on the horizon, and not only can you pivot to avoid being hit by automation, you can hopefully take advantage of the new opportunities, too.
Keep on learning
“Just-in-time” manufacturing responds to the philosophy of producing goods to exactly meet customer demand, ensuring flexibility in the supply chain. Today’s learners need to be “just-in-time” learners, with a similar approach to picking up skills.
Because of the aforementioned shifts in technology, you’ll need to continually pick up new skills and areas of knowledge to best cope with the demands of the digital world. While that does mean is that you’ll never be able to really say your days of education are behind you, fortunately, the growing number of online training programs means that accessing learning is easier (and, in many cases, cheaper) than ever.
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