Stripped down to the basics, AI is a set of methods to collect data, discover patterns, predict behaviors, and create algorithms by which to train machines to apply all this knowledge, so as to make the work we do more productive.
But it is easy to jump to the notion that AI is really all about creating robots to take our jobs away. And there are plenty of numbers to back it up.
By 2030, as much as 14 percent of the global workforce faces losing their jobs to automation, which includes two-thirds of all jobs in developing nations. Southern and Eastern Europe are also particularly vulnerable.
In the United States, 47 percent of all new jobs are at risk of being taken over by machines. Transportation and logistics are the industries at highest risk of large-scale job elimination. Office, administrative, and blue-collar production work are the occupations most likely to be affected. And high-paying professions such as law, medicine, and finance risk becoming much less lucrative.
But that’s only half the story…
How so? No technology can ever change the brutal fact that productive work also demands a lot of labor, whether done by machines or people. Every organization still needs labor to produce goods and services, make a market for them, provide a secure means to transact, follow up with any needed assistance, and make it all such a pleasant experience that customers will want to do it again and again.
Like any technology, AI changes the processes by which it all gets done, and the tools workers use. It also creates many new kinds of work to assure that technology does the work it was built to do.
It’s all about managing where data comes from and where it goes
Data is the main ingredient of AI, and only recently has it become available in great abundance. Data is a resource unlike any other in that we can create more of it, and as it gets used it doesn’t get used up.
Situations for both collecting and applying data now pervade our lives, no matter where we are or what devices we use. Sensors and peripheral hardware have become smart, inexpensive, and ubiquitous, and can be connected through a single backend platform. Day and night, they collect data not just about what we speak or type, but also our images, actions, gestures, expressions, and even bodily responses.
The upshot is that AI enables the most critical drivers of business success to be measured, modeled, monitored, and controlled with incredible precision. Unlike ever before, nearly any business process can be made more efficient, any business interaction more personal, and any business service more accessible.
And that’s the key for both jobseekers and jobholders as they reskill to meet the needs of AI in the workplace. AI demands everyone sharpen their skills in enhancing what AI does well, as well as filling in the gaps. Let’s take a closer look.
Enhancing AI, and all that AI enhances
The most fundamental of AI skills is managing the lifecycle of data, from where it gets fertilized and created, to how it gets cultivated, stored, retrieved, analyzed, and ultimately rendered into tools that return value to the business.
The greatest potential for AI is in reinventing business functions that historically have been treated as cost centers, especially supply chain, customer service, human resources, marketing, and product development.
Anyone employed in these areas will need to upgrade their skills to become an AI technician, adapting their current expertise to an AI environment. That will involve gaining proficiency in analytical software, productivity tools, robotics technologies, along with new forms of business operations. AI is likely to piggyback on the digital business model, affecting especially traffic acquisition, market funnelization, ecommerce optimization, content management, and customer service.
Few organizations will have all the AI competencies they need. They will need help from third-party firms and specialists who can offer some combination of products, services, consulting, and even outsourcing. Those wishing to specialize in AI applications, or have deep subject matter expertise that maps to the AI space will especially want to gain skills in providing AI solutions on a B2B basis.
Picking up where AI leaves off
Jobs that only humans can learn to do are at the lowest risk of automation, but also have the greatest likelihood of complementing AI. Therefore, everyone working in an AI environment also needs to sharpen their skills in activities that humans do better than machines.
What specifically are these skills? According to the seminal study in the field, such skills involve higher-order thinking and communicating in a high-touch manner. Specific areas include caregiving, social perceptiveness, dealing with the public, and originality/creativity. It also includes supervisory work, especially of people, computers, systems, or processes that are influenced by AI.
Finally, AI is likely to make personal interactions scarcer, and therefore more valuable. Everyone affected by AI should upgrade their personal business interaction skills, understand where human skills complement AI, and put themselves in a position to make the whole of the AI enterprise greater than the sum of its parts.