Most of us are still feeling around in the dark when it comes to figuring out how artificial Intelligence (AI) will affect our jobs in the future. What we especially get nervous about is the uncertainty around how and more importantly, when AI will affect the employment market.
When we get confronted with things we don't quite understand, our initial reaction is to take a view that is skewed to the negative. From what we can see so far, AI is already taking over all kind of jobs around in a wide variety of industries, at an increasing pace, and in professions that you would have thought are immune such as with doctors, investment managers, and even lawyers.
That is why most of regard AI as a threat. It is easier to think that maybe we should try to ignore it and hide from it rather than embrace its possibilities. Maybe it will just go away.
In a way our attitude looks a bit like this:
It is kind of sweet to believe that you can hide from something that is already staring at you.
But this wave of 'job destruction' may have a silver lining after all.
A way to look at it is that AI might actually help us further advance as a species. It may free us to explore new occupations. Jobs and skills that we had never even thought about before. I might make our lives more fulfilling and help us pursue a life with more satisfaction.
After all, the industrial revolution was also all fear and loathing about replacing workers with machines and yet it spawned a whole new menu of professions that we had never even imagined possible. It created a middle class and an entire ballooning global economy around it.
I understand that you may be freaked out by AI and that you may not even want to consider embracing such a positive outlook for its future. If that is how you are feeling, I totally understand where you are coming from because I was there as well.
When a machine can outperform a seasoned professional who invested years worth of time and effort in perfecting a craft, there is always something tragic about handing it over to something that doesn't eat, sleep, complain, make mistakes and never ever stops learning. After all, it is difficult to think objectively when our sense of security and belonging gets so frontally challenged.
But you might be overreacting. It's a bit like what often happens when you or a colleague leaves a firm. At first, it seems like a problem or even a crisis, but a week later life just goes on. The people you left behind hardly even remember you and if you are the one leaving, chances are that you will look back at it as one of the better things that happened to you because you get to explore new avenues for your life (I know, some people just sit around, stuck in the past, bitching and sulking about what happened to them...).
I'm writing a little book about all this because I wanted to provide you with a reality check of what AI really holds for the future of our working lives.
I like to publish my books while I am writing them. First of all it makes me accountable to actually work on them (writing is hard!) and I think it is kind of cool to mix up the model of producing a TV series with the publication of a book. Maybe that makes me stark-raving crazy, but I think I might be onto something here. Who knows...
I'm writing it because I hope it will give you a framework that will inspire you to start incorporating it in your thinking. It may even help you plot a course for your career that will take you to a place where you can marvel at the advancements rather than live a life in resistance to change.
For clarity, I am not a militant advocate for AI. In fact, I have a rather stoic attitude towards technological evolution. My belief is that we have always been on a path of innovation and that it is what ultimately defines us as a species. Humans = Innovation.
As far as I can look back into our history, all I can see is that as a species, we are amazing at adapting to the new realities that come as a result of our innovations. So, no matter how hard we try to resist our creations at first, we eventually wind up being unable to live without them.
There is another important recurring trend to keep in mind. Embracing change is never comfortable but for as long as we have been around, the early adopters of our innovations usually came out on top.
There is a clear incentive to be ahead of the curve but it never comes easy. When people look at you as if you have lost your mind or when you know they are whispering things about you behind your back, it's not easy to keep going. So, unfortunately, in the short term it never seems to add up, but in the medium term, being ready pays dividends...
In my case, people used to giggle at my incessant and 'irrational' interest in the future of the union between humans and technology. I've lost track of all the times I was pulled aside by people who cared about me to have 'the talk' which always went something like this:
"It's all very interesting and all that, but have you thought about how all this abstract and fuzzy stuff will pay the bills? It seems foolish of you to ignore all the experience and talent you have acquired as a business developer in the investment industry. Shouldn't you consider getting back in the game and play around with 'those ideas' in your spare time?"
I know, rationally speaking, this advice would make sense.
But then again, regardless of how badly we want to believe it, the world is NOT a rational place. As I write this, there are some very weird things happening out there.
[Begin of rant]
There are grown up people out on the street intensely running around staring at their mobile phones trying to zap virtual Pokemon characters. It makes no sense but everybody is crazy about it.
In the US, a billionaire supported by his poorest, and arguably dumbest fellow citizens has just been nominated as the Republican Presidential Candidate. His campaign rest upon a blatantly xenophobic electoral program while his own wife is a thickly accented immigrant from an Eastern European country. Add to this that most of what this man is using as the key arguments for his campaign can easily be disproven with simple data that anyone can google. Yet, he is getting more support than anyone would have thought possible. He knocked out 17 (or was it 19) experienced opponents during his campaign, he is loathed within the Republican Party but he stands a fighting chance to become the next President of the USA. Is this rational? Of course not, but it is happening.
The point is that most people are simply not thinking. Give them free access to all the information in the world and they will run under busses chasing Pokemons or just believe anything some clown with funny hair tells them. One of my father's favourite sayings is "keep them in the dark, feed them shit, and they will grow happily".
[End of rant]
Sorry about that. I needed to let that out :-)
But getting back to the point, a few years after I started devoting an 'unreasonable' amount of time and energy to better understanding where technological innovation will be taking us in the world of business development, I still often get 'pulled aside' by people, only now it happens for very different reasons. This time, it is about them. They want me to help them 'make sense of it all'. They feel they are falling behind with all this 'tech stuff'. They need advice... That is exactly what I do for a living. I love those kind of talks!
I don't have all the answers, but I am certainly getting better at asking the right questions about getting ready for what is coming. What I have learned is that it is all about asking the right questions, the weirder, the better.
To get there, I made an investment with my most precious asset: my time.
Some say that time is money. I don't agree. Today you can borrow money at almost negative interest rates. That expression referred to when your money would earn you interest. That game is over.
Money is scalable and increasingly worthless, if you are in touch with financial markets, you know that they will start throwing money at us like we have never seen it before - they call this 'helicopter money'.
So, if you are in it for the money, in the long run you might as well be working for toilet paper :-)
So getting ahead in your thinking about these inevitable topics will put you in a valuable place.
When everyone is lost in the dark, it is kind of good to be the one holding a flashlight...