What workplace skills will get you to the top in the age of AI?

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Likun Zhao | Consumer Business Group SA

People seem to be rather dichotomous in their thinking when it comes to predicting the specifics of an AI-driven future, especially when it comes to the world of work. It has been suggested that machines will either take everyone’s jobs and render humanity useless, or they will be catalysts for a world where humans are freed up to ponder issues that have plagued our society for decades. Super AI in the world of singularity has been hailed as the ultimate slayer of modern economic systems – the government can’t tax AI. The reality, of course, is probably somewhere in between.

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What is certain, however, is that the fourth industrial revolution, just like the three movements before it, is ushering in change – and we have to do what we can to be prepared for that seismic shift, especially when it comes to how we plan on earning an income in the future.

What makes us human?

Perhaps an important starting point when imagining the future workplace is to ask: What differentiates people from AI? At the moment, it’s our emotional intelligence. Subtleties in tone and nuances in attitude are far more difficult to read than simple actions and predictable behaviours. Excellent interpersonal skills and human literacy will therefore be even more highly valued in the future, with a premium being placed on being able to work well in teams and communicate effectively. Although many functions humans perform will most likely be replaced and even enhanced by learning machines, the importance of the human touch should never be underestimated.

Another quality that is likely to be highly esteemed in the next few decades is creativity. This applies to both artistic pursuits – although robots have been known to create beautiful works of art – and also to approaching problems. People should be continuously exploring new ways of thinking about problems, and applying multi-disciplinary approaches. An attitude of continuous curiosity will be desirable, with the ‘what’ being far less important than the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.

Flexibility will also be well regarded in the workplace of the future. “Change is the only constant”, the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once said, and his prophetic musings become even more apt as technology continues to shift our world at a rapid pace. Individuals will need to show increased agility in skills, attitude and thinking as they adapt to changes that will affect the world of work. There will be no place for rigidity when the environment requires a fluid workforce.

What can we learn from AI machines?

AI devices are learning machines. Unlike automated robots, instruments that make use of AI technology are devised to digest and analyse information, apply it, and then further build on that knowledge. Quite simply, AI is geared for constant improvement and development. Similarly, people should adopt this mindset of continuous learning if they are to be prepared for the workplace of the future. The professions of the future will not be role- or job-focused. Rather, there will be an emphasis on continuously acquiring new skills that can be applied in a wide range of industries.  In the future, learning and working will be interlinked – and this will apply throughout someone’s lifetime. A degree acquired 15 years ago, along with a decade of experience, will no longer be regarded as adequate learning for the job you are doing now.

A good example of how AI is being integrated more and more into our everyday lives is through smartphones. This year saw the launch of the first smartphones ever with on-device AI, one of these being the Huawei Mate 10, which combines machine learning and power management. It is able to listen, read and even understand how people think, anticipating what we need before we even request it. The phone also uses this information to intelligently manage its power usage, and allocate power to the applications you use more frequently, so that the phone’s battery is not drained prematurely. The ultimate result is the intelligent evolution of modern day devices. The superphone is not replacing us, but rather empowering us to evolve as humans, much like AI will help us develop new skills in the workplace over the next few years.

What does the future world of work look like?

While futurists have been able to make many predictions about what 2030 and beyond will look like, we must remember that the jobs of the future have not been invented yet, and so nothing is certain. What is definite, however, is that AI will play a significant role in reimagining how people will contribute to society and earn their bread and butter. Skills which we value today will most likely not be the talents that are at a premium tomorrow. The best approach may well be to focus on what makes us different from these learning machines and examine how we can complement AI technology, rather than try to compete with it.

 

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