3 Skills You Need to Save Your Job From a Robot
The bad news: Simply getting better or knowing more won't cut it. The good news: Being more human will.
By Tim Leberecht
You’ve heard the rumblings of the robots, right? When I make a customer service call and get an eerily nuanced answer from a chatbot, I hear the rumbling of the robots. When I call out to my digital assistant and Siri/Alexa/Cortana makes a wise-cracking response, I feel the rumblings. I can’t help but love my Roomba, and I have mixed feelings about the robot that assembled my car, but what about the more nebulous forms of Artificial Intelligence?
Up to 50 percent of the human workforce may be replaced by machines, a 2013 Oxford study predicts, and McKinsey estimates that 60 percent of all jobs have least 30 percent of activities “that are technically automatable, based on technologies available today.” The threat is real: Between 1990 and 2007, for every robot per thousand workers, up to six workers lost their jobs and wages fell by as much as three-fourths of a percent in the US, according to a new study conducted by MIT and Boston University economists.
If you’re not worried about AI and the future of your job, then you’re not human. So stop right there: Being more human is exactly what will save us from the robots.
I call my strategy for beating the robots “The Revenge of the Liberal Arts.” Here are 3 ways to be more human and help you maintain your job in the age of AI:
1. Write poetry
I define human as puzzling. Fuzzy. Moody. Exuberant. An elastic mind that can bend in all kinds of direction has a head start on robots. Go ahead. Rhyme. Or not. You don’t have to show anyone.
2. Think hard and feel more
Those who seek a rich “sentimental education” that teaches them to appreciate the elusive wonders of art, meaning, and beauty can go deeper than robots can. Nurture your soul and that of others. The popular Swiss-British philosopher Alain de Botton contends that a job is meaningful “whenever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others.” Read philosophy and find a philosopher who puzzles you. Struggle with what you read. Watch something hopelessly sad or romantic. Lost in Translation. The Godfather. Her. The Last Tycoon. Roman Holiday. Seen it? Watch it again. Never heard of it? Watch it this weekend. Feel hopeless. Feel hopeful. AI can’t.
3. Become AI’s best friend
Ironically, collaborating with AI–or raising “good AI”–is where we humans may be needed most. Accenture sees huge potential for people who can serve as coaches, interpreters, and facilitators for AI. The startup Kemoko employs humans as “empathy trainers” for its machine-learning system that helps digital assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa answer users’ questions in a more human way. IBM is seeking to hire poets, playwrights, and philosophers to help it design authentic, meaningful conversations for the users of Watson, its cognitive computing platform.
If you think these skills are too soft, brace yourself: soft skills are the hard skills of the future. Feeling is the new thinking. With everything that can be done efficiently soon delegated to machines, only what is inherently human will help you retain your competitive advantage in the job market.
While artificial intelligence can replace any skill that’s routine or extremely complex, AI can’t replace social skills such as persuasion, empathy, character, or teaching. It is not very good at things we humans find simple and don’t think about: tacit knowledge or intuition. In the past, decisions based on gut feel could get you fired. In the future, deciding on data alone will get you automated.
The futurist Gerd Leonhard told me that “If you can describe your job in one sentence, it’s a sure-tell sign that you will lose it to a machine.” Ambiguity is not a robotic forte. Coders are out, sensemakers are in. No wonder firms like New York-based ReD Associates that apply Heidegger to help brands like Adidas and Samsung are in high demand.
Despite all the buzz about AI, humans still are a firm’s most valuable asset. In fact, human capital is 2.33 times more valuable than all other capital combined (real estate, inventory, technology, etc.), according to executive search firm Korn Ferry’s recent “The Future of Work Is Human” report (although I do wonder how they were able to come up with such a precise number….).
Want to keep working? Polish the fuzziness that makes you human. Google’s Deep Mind might have beaten the champion Go player Fan Hui, but no robot can beat the Professional Organization of English Majors.
Luckily, you didn’t have to get a liberal arts degree back in college to become a member.