Should we start up-skilling now before the bots take our jobs?

We know that new technologies change the shape of the workplace: from the semi-automated production lines from 1913 to today's chatbots who are taking over from humans in call centres, but the sheer pace of change suggests that we need to act now to stay workplace relevant: Adapt or die: How to cope when the bots take your job

To what extent do you think this is true, and have you done anything yet to future-proof your skill set?

  • I've just watched this episode of BBC's Click which I thought gave a very sensible view of the whole robots/AI issue: www.bbc.co.uk/.../click-ai-robot
  • But what skills would you up-skill to?

    I see the burger flipping robot failed last week but predictable analytics seems to be working. So it’s not clear if up-skilling then which direction to go in?
  • I'm not sure that up-skilling, necessarily, is the right way of thinking.

    As I've mentioned before, physical robots as usually presented aren't usually a threat to human jobs in the normal sense because they are best used in roles that are repetitive, hazardous or otherwise unpleasant or even impossible for humans to do, making their implementation, overall, a sum contributor to the benefit of humans.

    The "threat" such as it is comes from what I've called elsewhere "ghostbots". These are usually called "artificial intelligence", but they aren't really anywhere near true intelligence, but they can mimic it within a very narrow range of conditions. They are robots assembled from algorithms rather than nuts and bolts. And they are going to be great at some things. Anything that involves reaching a decision based on solid data from a discreet number of possible options will be within their capability.

    I could probably hand over about 50% of my daily work to a sufficiently-advanced ghostbot. But that wouldn't make my skill-set redundant. On the contrary, I am still called upon to assist with matters not conventionally within my purview because I have a wide range of knowledge and experience that has nothing to do with the limited role of HR. I am also required to look at "conventional" decisions and review them in the context of new information or a changing marketplace - something that a ghostbot simply can't do. And, of course, a human mind will still be needed to continually assess the data through which the ghostbot is doing its work to ensure that this is still relevant.

    Of course, I'll find myself doing 50% fewer hours. Or perhaps the world will need 50% fewer HR Managers. But the essential properties of the human mind that make me valuable as an employment asset haven't gone away.

    Last weekend, I watched a young man make more money in a day than I'll earn between now and retirement by playing a computer game with a pop musician (Ninja and Drake, if you're interested). Did Ninja upskill himself to achieve this? I'm fairly sure he didn't set out with a plan to become a Twitch Actual Play millionaire. But it illustrates well that our understanding of what is going to be a marketable skill in the future may be drastically off-kilter.
  • In reply to Robey:

    Two interesting (to me anyway :-) ) things arise out of your post Robey

    1) Mundane repetitive jobs while unattractive did keep large numbers of people employed. Part of the social and political challenges we are facing are around how to engage with this increasingly disenfranchised section of the community

    2) The key on "professional" jobs is we will indeed need 50% or 66% or whatever less of them. Meaning that even for "upskilled" people there will be less and less opportunity.

    The real challenge for me is how we transform as a society to one where 5 days a week work is no longer the norm and that what meaningful and  rewarding activities there are can be shared out. Additionally how you finance this. Its one of the reasons that a universal wage / benefit "may" start to be looked at increasingly

    It may well be less a question of "up skilling" and more a question of rethinking fundamentally what work means and how society needs to change drastically or face massive upheaval. 

  • In reply to Keith:

    Interesting post Keith (and Robey). My main concerns are those that you raise.

    Firstly what place in a future society for those whose skills based on codified transactions can be transferred to a programmed automat which is able to identify a situation and chose the appropriate response based on rigourous algorithms (not always that rigourous....).

    Secondly, if our society choses to remove this population from the productive workforce, what shape for the life they could lead and how to finance it?

    Moving onto the HR aspects....to be sure, many transactional processes can be automated/mechanised (it's been happening for years), but IMHO those areas inprofessional HR jobs that present the greatest challenges are those where good judgement calls can make a positive difference/contribution. I still think we are light-years away from being able to catalogue all the right answers to every imaginable situation. Intuition and interaction are still two of the unpredictable main threads of the HR world in we we operate and will continue to operate

    PS - just edited the post and was proud to click the recapcha "I am not a robot"