Will Smart Robots Take Your Job?
Five ways to strengthen the skill set that could save your career.
Technology is replacing real jobs and will continue to do so at a record pace over the next couple of decades. We’re accustomed to seeing this kind of thing in certain industries such as manufacturing, health care and banking. But now technology will be coming for white-collar jobs, too.
Technology will be replacing more jobs at an ever-increasing pace, particularly with this next round of technology, which includes artificial intelligence. AI is the game changer. It is the biggest discovery since fire. It effectively threatens to wipe out a whole new group of jobs, including white collar positions.
These assertions are backed up by a recent University of Oxford study by researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne. They found that over the next 10 to 20 years, 66 percent of U.S. employees have a medium-to-high risk of being displaced by smart robots and machines powered by artificial intelligence.
So, what can you do to keep your job?
When the AI tech tsunami hits, the only jobs that will be safe are the ones that require a human element. The things that humans will be able to do better than robots is creative, innovative and complex critical thinking, and engaging emotionally with other humans. You must take up your skills in these areas in order to make yourself more irreplaceable.
Here’s how to strengthen the skill set that could save your career:
Overcome cognitive blindness. Humans are lazy, sub-optimal thinkers. We seek to confirm what we already believe, and we tend not to be open-minded or rational. We take what we already know, replicate it, improve it and repeat. It is easier than thinking critically or innovatively, but it makes us cognitively blind.
If you give two people a set of data, each will process the information in ways that confirm their own existing knowledge. We all have these cognitive blind spots. Cognitive blindness to different interpretations of the information is one reason change is so hard for people. It’s why smart people make bad decisions, and it’s why companies miss competitive shifts or new trends. You can overcome your cognitive blindness by strengthening your critical thinking. Start asking yourself: Why do I believe this? What do I truly know? What don’t I know? What do I need to know?
Get good at not knowing. We have to change our mind-set about what being smart really is. In the technology-enabled world, how much you know will be irrelevant, because smart machines and the Internet will always know more than you. What will be more important is knowing what you don’t know and knowing how to use the best learning processes—in other words, the smartest people will be focused on continuously learning.
Again, this is an area where strong critical thinking skills will be essential. Our thinking will need to become more intentional and deliberate. Rather than pride yourself on what you think you know, become an adaptive learner—someone who knows what you don’t know and how to learn it by asking the right questions, someone who can think critically and innovatively, someone who can really listen with an open mind and collaborate well with others.
Humility is a silver bullet. Quiet your ego. Humility will help you really hear what your customers and colleagues are saying, and humility will help you be open-minded and more willing to try new ways. Both make innovation and entrepreneurial activities more likely to be successful. Humility is also necessary for good critical thinking and collaboration. Curb your tendency to interrupt people and instead focus on becoming a better listener. Work on reading people’s emotional cues and picking up on what they’re saying and not saying. Don’t be so consumed with being right—be consumed with constantly stress testing what you believe against new data. Treat everything you think you know as conditional, subject to modification by better data.
Become an egoless collaborator. Emotional intelligence plays an important role in your ability to recognize and appraise verbal and nonverbal information, to access emotions in order to aid in creativity and problem-solving, to process your own feelings and assess those of others, and to regulate your own emotions and manage those of others.
The ability to collaborate effectively will be an essential skill in years to come. The powerful work connections that will be needed to build successful organizations will result from relationships that are built by authentically relating to another person, recognizing their uniqueness, and doing so in a respectful way that builds trust. If you can’t manage your own emotions and ego, read those of others, or connect with the people around you on more than a superficial level, then you won’t be a successful collaborator.
Sharpen your hands-on skills. The trade professions are at greater risk, because their jobs are often easy to replicate with an algorithm. This group must hone their perceptual diagnosis, real-time reaction, and physical dexterity skills to fix problems. Robots won’t likely be able to replicate this in the near future.
Artificial intelligence will in many ways make our lives better. But it will also challenge all of us to take our skills to a higher level in order to compete and stay relevant. We humans need to focus on continually developing the skills that are ours and ours alone—at least for the near future.
Edward D. Hess is a professor and Batten Executive-in-Residence at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He is the author of 11 books, including Learn or Die: Using Science to Build a Leading-Edge Learning Organization.