Greg Orme highlights the qualities you’ll need to rely on to succeed in a future where machines will perform many white-collar tasks
Artificial intelligence is encroaching on even the most complex and high-level jobs. For instance, a recent study published in Nature has revealed that AI is better than any doctor at diagnosing breast cancer from mammograms. This just one of several machine-learning breakthroughs against a growing list of diseases. If physicians are being outperformed by computers, should we be worried?
AI will indeed take over whole job categories – and quite soon. If it’s possible to write an algorithm that covers all the processes and judgement calls required in a job, that occupation is virtually guaranteed to be automated. Predictable and repetitive human “grunt work” will be consigned to history. Tax-return preparers, personal assistants and retail cashiers will be replaced first.
Automation is not new in the workplace, of course. The first industrial revolution replaced our brawn. The difference now is that our brains are fair game. The machines of the fourth industrial revolution are coming for white-collar workers, although anyone with enough foresight to read Director is unlikely to be in imminent danger of obsolescence – as long as you’re thoughtful about your personal development too, that is.
Despite the hype, we’re dealing only with what computer scientists call artificial narrow intelligence at present. This works only for specific tasks such as responding to simple questions or recommending products, adverts and content online. Rather than making you redundant, AI will “cheese-slice” away the routine parts of your work in the coming years.
The smart move is to engage with it, not as an enemy, but as a friend. For instance, global law firms have traditionally made lots of money by assigning large teams to huge stacks of paperwork. Today, some of the top outfits rely on AI to digest the thousands of documents needed in pre-litigation due diligence. Enlightened partners in these firms are treating this as a golden opportunity to devote their efforts (and those of their juniors) to more valuable activities, such as customer care, product innovation and strategic planning.
Horses for courses
It’s time to accept that there’s little value in trying to compete with AI in its areas of strength. Instead, we need to differentiate ourselves from machines. This makes sense because we are strong in AI’s areas of weakness. Natural human qualities such as common sense, critical thinking and empathy, which we sometimes take for granted because they’re part of our DNA, are beyond even the most powerful computers.
While AI is perfect for specific tasks, humans are far better at seeing the big picture. We intuitively understand social context. We skilfully integrate different stages in a process and cleverly combine different domains of knowledge.
We need to let AI do what it does best, while we look after each other, look out for customers and look to the future, using our innate “superpowers” of curiosity, creativity and collaboration.
We shouldn’t be surprised that AI is better than doctors at diagnosing breast cancer. Spotting patterns in oceans of data is what it’s all about. With phenomenal speed and accuracy, computers will compare the information provided by one mammogram with that taken from millions of other scans. To succeed at work in this century, become a more human human. I’d definitely want AI to give me a diagnosis, but I’d want human care. How about you?
Greg Orme is the author of The Human Edge: How curiosity and creativity are your superpowers in the digital economy, published by Pearson