According to the World Economic Forum, advances in technology such as robotics and artificial intelligence will lead to a net loss of 5 million jobs by the year 2020…and that number might actually be on the low-end.
Thanks to the exponential nature of technological advances, and a confluence of various keystone technologies improving simultaneously, incredible advances are being made in the fields of AI and robotics that are rapidly chipping away at jobs in various industries.
What jobs are at risk? For now, anything that is repetitive (such as factory work and assembly line jobs), low-skill (taxi drivers, janitorial jobs, cashiers, line cooks, etc.), or high-skill but narrow scope (stock brokers, data analysts, certain types of medical professionals, etc.).
As an employee, it seems scary, but think of it from a consumer’s perspective: perfectly assembled products that cost less, food that is cooked in a clean environment with vastly less risk of food-borne illness, cars that don’t kill over 1,000,000 people per year globally, and medical technology that can identify your illness and recommend a treatment plan with greater accuracy than any human doctor ever could.
While I believe it’s true that new jobs will come from these advances, I absolutely agree with the WEF that they will result in a net job loss…at least in the short-term, and possibly long-term as well. There’s simply too much financial incentive for companies to cut costs and take advantage of these efficiencies, and the benefits to consumers are incredible.
But as an employee living in a country with no universal basic income, you need a job to survive. So, what can you do about it?
You have precisely one option, broken down into a handful of steps. You need to prepare yourself with a set of skills that will get you jobs that will be very difficult for robots or AI to do. Here’s what you’re going to need:
1. An education that is broad and deep
Robots and narrow AI are good at a limited set of tasks, such as moving things from point A to B, or playing a game. They are (for now) terrible at doing complicated sequential tasks that involve critical thinking or personalization (say, designing a building, writing a symphony, or putting together a multi-faceted marketing campaign).
The more skills you have, the more flexible you will be in terms of jobs you can tackle, making you difficult to replace. So, learn as much as you can, about as many things as possible.
2. Well-honed EQ
Your EQ, or emotional quotient, is a mark of how well you navigate human interaction. Robots and AI are, well, robots and AI. They aren’t human, and likely won’t be human-esque for quite a long time. That means that if you’re really good with people, whether managing a team or negotiating a contract, you’ve got a solid advantage for the foreseeable future.
3. Technological savvy
Perhaps we should call this TQ, technology quotient. As jobs are replaced by machines, the people filling the jobs that aren’t replaced are going to need to know how to work with said machines.
I strongly believe that in the future, an inability to write and/or understand code will be the equivalent of illiteracy. Here’s a great list of sites that can help you learn to code for free. Beyond coding, you will need to be able to pick up a new technology, software or hardware, and become comfortable with it quickly.
The pace of change is accelerating, and if you can’t adapt, you won’t make it through the transition. The human brain loves routines, because a routine is a known entity, a mark of safety. In the future, complacency will be the opposite of safety.
Your job will change, possibly often, and you will need to be able to handle those changes. How do you prepare for that? Get comfortable with learning new things. Pick up new hobbies, challenge yourself to learn new skills. Do anything you can to keep your mind flexible, and never let yourself settle into a rut.
While some people succeed in life because of luck, most of the truly successful people succeed because they work their asses off. Learn this lesson early: you aren’t entitled to anything. If something or someone takes “your” job, well, tough. It’s only yours until it isn’t yours, and that really isn’t in your control.
Complaining won’t fix it. In fact, complaining could mess up your chances even further. Don’t waste time complaining! Hustle, hunt for a new job, retrain if you have to, start a company, do whatever it takes.
You can’t directly prevent a company from replacing you with a robot or narrow AI…but you can do everything in your power to make yourself much, much harder to replace.
If you’re still in school, you need to be thinking about this right now. Before you pick a career path, at the very least read up on artificial intelligence and ask yourself, “Can a machine do this job better than me?”