Future-Proofing Your Career for the AI Revolution


One of the big concerns facing tomorrow's workforce may just be competition from artificial intelligence and the technologies that contribute to it. Last month during our five-webinar Academy series on the implications and opportunities of AI and machine learning, our presenters frequently came back to how AI has the potential to reshape the workforce.

Your job may not be threatened by outsourcing. Your job may be more likely to be threatened because your company has automated the process. Recommendation engines have already changed how consumers interact with retail. No longer needing the help of a sales representative, consumers use these engines to research products and make decisions about what to buy. Organizations are also now experimenting with replacing humans as call center agents, and one of our Academy speakers referred to a recent study in which some participants weren't sure whether the online chat agent who helped them was a human or a machine.

And it's not just low-paid customer service jobs that are being automated. Consider this article about how machine learning is being leveraged as a potential way to do a better job at diagnosing medical conditions from data. Could medical doctors lose their jobs to AI? And what about news reporters?

Jon Carter's cartoon this month captures this moment. A manager, or maybe a director of HR calls an employee into the office to deliver some news. "You've done a good job for the company, Roger, but we just need someone who's a little less ... analog."

That strikes at a fear that many share going into the uncertain future. While experts point to the fact that AI will create new jobs, the AI revolution, like the Industrial Revolution, will change the shape and form of the workforce. We may not recognize ourselves in 20 or 30 years.

During the Academy sessions last month, I asked many of our expert presenters about what skills analytics professionals should pursue to make sure they are ready for the opportunities in the age of AI. Their advice didn't sound much different from the advice elders have given to youth as they embark on higher education and careers over the last 20 or 30 years. Analytics skills are important. Creativity is important. But no one had any hard answers. Maybe we are too close to the beginning of this AI Revolution to know yet what courses to take in college or what skills to pursue.

What do you think? What skills should college students and professionals develop to secure their place in the workforce of the future? Will being analog ever become an advantage again? Will we ever see the cartoon were the HR director calls in The Machine to say, "Hey, you've done good work, but we need someone who's a little less digital?"

Let us know your thoughts and give us your advice in the comments below.

Jessica Davis, Senior Editor, Enterprise Apps, Informationweek

Jessica Davis has spent a career covering the intersection of business and technology at titles including IDG's Infoworld, Ziff Davis Enterprise's eWeek and Channel Insider, and Penton Technology's MSPmentor. She's passionate about the practical use of business intelligence, predictive analytics, and big data for smarter business and a better world. In her spare time she enjoys playing Minecraft and other video games with her sons. She's also a student and performer of improvisational comedy. Follow her on Twitter: @jessicadavis.

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Re: Automation
  • 7/24/2017 8:19:30 AM
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I wonder about the writers of these articles and if they are predicting a slight change in the way they work but ignoring the way most employees work.  There are a lot of positions that I don't think I would want changing every few days or every time a function is performed. In a gig economy both sides would suffer in certain instances.   If a company finds someone that is great at a particular task, they pay them to do that task a handful of times then one day the person that they have been using starts taking gigs with other companies and stops taking the first companies gigs.  Now they have no transition between employees, someone has to learn everything from scratch without a resource who has history with the job.  I feel like there is an unintentional dumbing down when these articles are written but the jobs aren't being dumbed down to the same level. 

 

Re: Automation
  • 7/22/2017 8:53:04 AM
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I would also be a bit skeptical about the predictions as well. It's seemingly a trendy subject to talk about the gig economy, but whether those folks now working that will continue and whether future workers want to risk an unpredictable income working "independently" remains to be seen. While the attraction is there for some workers, it's still a gamble if it's economically viable for most people.

Re: Automation
  • 7/21/2017 8:29:28 AM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT for gigs like that, we have to think of it as a paycheck rather than as fulfilling work, though I still try to produce top quality writing. What you said reminded me of some of my Labor Studies classes (that was my major). In the history of labor, there was a time when craftsmen did the whole job and so had the satisfaction of design and implementation of an entire thing. Then the division of labor came in for more efficiency, and workers did only one small part on an assembly line. At least, though, it was possible to identify as a factory worker and know what your task produced. In the gig setup, you're never really integrated into the organization that employs you. That also brings up another factor about work that some people like -- the sense of community they get from it. I remember reading an article a long time ago about women who took a break from working outside the home when they had children, and many reported missing that. Some stay-at-home moms feel rather isolated, especially if they are used to a sort of office culture.

Re: Automation
  • 7/21/2017 8:07:41 AM
NO RATINGS

I think I can understand how Contently would leave a writer feeling a bit unfulfilled if you have no idea where you content is actually published.  The description of the gig economy didn't even sound that complete the way the paper read.  It felt more like writing a couple paragraphs for a book then not knowing what book they appear in.  It felt like there was very little ownership if what you produce it was just a puzzle piece being placed in then you walk away. I guess if you do that every day and you spend your day looking for the piece of the puzzle that you can supply and you treat your career as a long series of single tasks that never have any resolution then I guess it works.  I just don't know too many people who are fulfilled with singular tasks like that in the long term. 

Re: Automation
  • 7/20/2017 12:23:02 PM
NO RATINGS

<I know that I could jump companies every couple years using the skills I have to repeat what I've done for former employers but I'm not a fan of that at all, I like roots and I like growing with a company, if I only worked on a tiny part of a project for 3 months I don't feel like I've have the same level of satisfaction as a year of project development, watching it launch and the tweaking that comes after launch.>

@SaneIT Excellent insight into what is lacking in a purely gig-based working relationship. I feel that all the time as a freelancer, especially for clients that have a middleman in between as in the case of Contently which doesn't give updates on when and where the work appears and often leaves our name off of the work, too.

Re: Automation
  • 7/20/2017 8:12:06 AM

I read the report and can't say that I strongly agree with much of what they are predicting, mainly because there isn't any content backing up these predictions and they don't spell out how they came to these conclusions.  Historically we've had shifts like this and they didn't go anything like a gig economy or the way that most of their predictions would suggest.  It felt a little dreamer inspired and didn't mention a single reason why these ideas would not work or alternative futures.  I have a hard time believing that a gig economy will become reality because I can look at industries that are close to that model yet they don't work anything like the report suggested.  If you look at the construction industry you have very few companies who do everything from the ground up.  A general contractor works on many projects, hires sub contractors for specific parts of each contract and the sub contractors hire individuals to do the work.  Workers typically stay on a single job site until their portion of the total project is completed.  The model that the report suggest sounds more like jumping from site to site because three or four companies all have work for you but in much smaller chunks.  I know that I could jump companies every couple years using the skills I have to repeat what I've done for former employers but I'm not a fan of that at all, I like roots and I like growing with a company, if I only worked on a tiny part of a project for 3 months I don't feel like I've have the same level of satisfaction as a year of project development, watching it launch and the tweaking that comes after launch.

Re: Automation
  • 7/19/2017 2:03:28 PM
NO RATINGS

@PC He didn't really offer an answer to that- only saying that they will have to pay attention to the process and the pace and get involved now. As for the question on the loss of jobs, there's a good article out today from the Wall Street Journal called "Robots Are Replacing Workers Where You Shop" with a report on what's happening now at places like Walmart and projections for the future.

 

Re: Automation
  • 7/19/2017 1:45:40 PM

100% agree with Elon Musk that AI will displace more workers than most people expect. Starts with workers whose jobs don't include much critical thinking (bank tellers, store clerks, truck drivers) but it doesn't stop there.

Also agree with @Ariella that the gig-economy seems to mostly benefit the employer, not the employee. We mostly end up with lower wages or way to few working hours.

What's I don't hear from Mr. Musk is some idea of whta government should be doing about AI.  How would any possible regulation make this situation significantly better?

 

Re: Automation
  • 7/19/2017 9:04:53 AM
NO RATINGS

@SaneIT I couldn't agree with you more. Also I can say that having looked into platforms in which "work seeks" the freelancer that many of those offer very low pay and they also are certain to have several people in the running for each job offer so they have their pick.  Sure the freelancer can choose which gigs are of interest, but the employers has multiple freelancers to choose from, and so they will, ultimately, call the shots on such jobs.

Re: Automation
  • 7/19/2017 8:20:29 AM
NO RATINGS

"Maguire countered that in future it would be multiple employers that would look to hire people for their skills profile. "

 

I don't buy into that for a second for the majority of jobs out there. Say you're working part time at a warehouse pulling items and a robot is placed next to you that pulls items faster, doesn't take breaks and doesn't need to go home to sleep.  You're not going to leave that job with 3 other warehouses looking to hire you on the spot.  You'll be competing with every other displaced order picker for work in the warehouses that don't have robots yet.  Eventually everyone will be competing with every other displaced worker in their field.  What I see is people working multiple part time jobs in vastly different fields or a part time job and some community/hobby work.  The problem with displacing workers is that we are a consumer economy, when the consumers don't have money the producers suffer too.  Higher profits that come by displacing humans is a very short sighted goal. 

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