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Lessons on AI and the Future of Work

Stone & Chalk recently hosted a virtual conversation between leading AI experts and work-futurists on what developments in AI mean for the world of work. Link to the full recording is at the end of the article. 

This topic is made all the more pertinent by recent disruptions to work and jobs from Covid-19. The conversation was moderated by Anne Moore, work futurist, social scientist, HR leader, CEO, and resident founder at Stone & Chalk. Our guests were Professor Anthony Elliott, Dean of External Engagement and Professor of Sociology at the University of South Australia as well as recent author of The Culture of AI: Everyday Life and the Digital Revolution. Joining him was Dima Galat, Chief Computing Officer and co-founder at Gronade.  

By now, it is common knowledge that many of today’s jobs are going to be largely or entirely automated over the coming decades and that these jobs range from truck driver to solicitor. It is estimated that this forthcoming disruption will be so thoroughgoing that it will affect almost every person in the workforce in some way, with up to 800 million workers being forced into some kind of career transition in the coming decade. As Anne puts it, what this means practically is that one or more of three things will happen to each and every one of us:

  1. You will need to be reskilled for your existing role;
  2. You will be redeployed to other roles;
  3. You will be exited from your organisation.

The good news, according to Dima, is that it’s increasingly easy to learn AI, programming, and other technical skills, with the thousands of high-quality, cheap, and easily-accessible MOOCs (massive open online courses) allowing you to pick up the basics in a matter of weeks. Dima refers to the position of DevOps as a case study and suggests that somebody with no computer programming experience can become an expert in 6 months with a 20-hour-a-week commitment. This opens them up to a range of engaging, skilled, and high-paying jobs. 

Anne also gives two additional reasons why it’s important to proactively upskill:  

  • You and your career are very likely to be your biggest financial assets; and 
  • Nobody will ever be as invested in you and your career as you. 

This is especially important when thinking about your job in terms of the value you can add to an organisation.

On the other hand, as Anthony suggests, technological skills will not be the most important requirement for jobs of the future. What will be more important than technological literacy will be the uniquely human “soft skills” such as social and creative skills, and emotional literacy. These are the irreplaceably “human” qualities that form a huge part of an individual’s value-add to their organisation. 

Though their emphases are different, Anthony and Dima both agree: there’s no turning back now; we are currently in the midst of a technological tsunami. 

Here, Dima and Anthony’s insights complement each other well: Dima argues that fear is a terrible motivator and that the best thing we can all do is embrace the change, learn what the AI revolution entails, and use this knowledge to our advantage. Anthony believes that the colossal impact that is and will be generated by developments in AI requires people to think beyond one’s own career, to the world which they want to live in, and which they want to leave for future generations. Understanding the tsunami is certainly the best way to survive it, individually and socially. We are now faced with an incredible opportunity to be able to develop our careers and align them with creating a prosperous and sustainable future. 

You can watch the full discussion on our YouTube channel here.

Join Stone & Chalk’s mailing list to stay up-to-date with this and more here.

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