May 16, 2018

The Skills You Need to Sharpen to Combat AI


Artificial intelligence (AI) is predicted to be the most disruptive technological innovation since the computer itself. Google CEO Sundar Pichai has said it is likely to be “more profound than … electricity or fire.” Many business leaders agree and are making massive investments, hoping to gain an early lead in the field.

Like no other technology before it, AI has the potential to reduce costs, increase productivity and efficiency, and transform critical business functions. It can achieve all this with much smaller headcounts, putting entire occupational categories and millions of jobs at risk for elimination.

It’s not hard to see the writing on the wall or why most workers feel a lot of anxiety about AI. In the United States, 47 percent of all jobs are at risk of being taken over by machines. Office, administrative, and blue-collar production work are the occupations most likely to get thinned out. As much as 15-20 percent of the global workforce may lose their jobs to automation by 2030, during which time two-thirds of all jobs in developing nations could be automated out of existence.

Why Is AI Such a Big Deal Now?

AI refers to a set of scientific and technical disciplines around collecting data, discovering patterns, predicting behavior, creating algorithms, and teaching machines to apply the resulting knowledge.

The notion of using data to create smart machines is nothing new. Until now, however, the scope of machines’ activities were limited. Data is fundamental to AI, but only very recently has it become an abundant resource. Technological advances in other fields have given us many new kinds of sensors and have inserted exponentially more data collection opportunities into our daily lives. Sophisticated peripheral hardware has also become smart and inexpensive.

Consequently, many of the key drivers of digital business success can now be measured, modeled, monitored, and controlled with extraordinary precision. As a result, practically any business process can be made more efficient, any customer interaction more personal, and any business service more accessible.

Everyone Needs to Sharpen Their Skills

The entire workforce is likely to be affected by AI, and nearly everyone is going to have to adapt. Regardless of whether you go all in for AI or pursue work safe from its reach, it is important to understand one key principle: Technology displaces work; it does not replace work. We still need to produce stuff, bring it to market, offer it for sale, pay for it, and sometimes get help after buying it. Technology changes how all that gets done and creates new kinds of work on top of it.

Strategy No. 1: Pursue Work That Is Safe From AI

Jobs that only humans can learn to do have the lowest risk of being automated away. So, one strategy for continued career success in the age of AI is to build a skill set relevant to activities that humans do better than machines.

According to the most famous study in this area, the fields least likely to be automated are engineering, science, law, the arts, culture work, media, education, computing, social work, counseling, and healthcare. All require higher-order thinking skills, and many roles in these fields are high-touch jobs that involve caregiving, social perceptiveness, dealing with the public, and originality. Supervisory work is also likely to be safe from automation, whether it involves people, computers, or processes that themselves are run by AI.

Strategy No. 2: Join the AI Ecosystem

To successfully implement AI, businesses will require a lot of help from both within and outside of their organizations. Providing that help is one of the safest career bets available today.

Where business leaders see AI creating value is in reinventing business functions that in the past have been treated as cost centers, especially supply chain, customer service, human resources, marketing, and product development.

Employees continuing to work in these functions will need to upgrade their skills to become like AI technicians who can apply their current expertise to the AI space. This will involve gaining proficiency in AI, productivity tools, emerging technologies, and new sets of business operations. Much of this upskilling can happen on the job, but it will require workers to take full responsibility for their own learning.

Few companies will have all the AI competencies they need in house. They will need help from third-party firms that specialize in AI solutions. These firms will offer products, services, consulting, and outsourcing. People wishing to specialize in AI applications or who have deep subject matter expertise that is relevant to the AI space will want to explore opportunities in providing AI solutions to other businesses.

Strategy No. 3: Go All in and Join the AI Enterprise

You know who you are, and you probably don’t need a lot of advice. As a reminder, to be an AI leader you’ll need both subject matter expertise and a skill set that includes mathematical modeling, machine learning techniques, cognitive psychology, robotics, computer vision, and basic digital business.

AI is likely to make personal interactions scarcer, and therefore more valuable, impactful, and influential. No matter what strategy you take, it would be wise to enhance your personal business interaction skills. Understand how human skills can complement AI and set yourself up to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Your human and robotic colleagues will appreciate you all the more for it.

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