Friday, May 26, 2017

How to make sure a robot doesn't take your job

The debate over artificial intelligence is tricky.

On one hand, as AI becomes more sophisticated, it will make our lives much easier by performing complex tasks in the blink of an eye. In theory, that could save businesses huge amounts of time and money.

On the other hand, the rise of AI could lead to many potential pitfalls. Some worry that AI could one day replace large swaths of middle-class jobs. Further, if AI becomes so sophisticated that it develops its own willpower, there will be a whole new set of science fiction–like issues to deal with.

Even the brilliant Stephen Hawking is on the fence when it comes to AI, calling it either the best thing or worst thing for humanity. Who knows!

We clearly can't predict how much AI will evolve in our lifetimes. But here are five things you can do right now to help prevent yourself from getting replaced by AI technology.

1. Become an AI trainer or explainer

There seems to be a real possibility that AI technology could replace large numbers of jobs across varying industries. What's often overlooked, however, is that the rise of AI will create many jobs as well.

This includes AI trainers, or humans that teach AI systems how they should perform. For example, some companies use chatbots to help deal with customer service demands, but those programs need constant tweaking and updating from humans to help them understand the vast subtleties of human interaction. The rise of AI will also create demand for explainers, or those who can explain the technology to others.

2. Develop specialized skills

AI has the potential to handle all manners of tasks, including ones you may not have even thought of yet. Before that happens, AI first needs to learn the wide variety of tasks that workers perform every day. That means the more specialized your talents and skillsets, the longer it will likely be before AI replaces you.

The examples vary by industry. If you're in the health-care field as a nurse, it will be helpful to learn and understand tasks and processes that wouldn't be easy to teach a machine to do. These tend to be soft skills, which machines obviously have a much harder time emulating than most humans.

Additionally, you can consider getting a job that encompasses a broad set of skills within a unique niche. For example, industrial mechanics can find jobs in a wide variety of industries, including aviation, appliances, automobiles, construction, electronics, and energy.

3. Be creative

It seems obvious, but it's worth stating: The first jobs AI will devour are those that require large amounts of analytics with very little creative thinking. Professionals in highly creative fields — like artists, computer programmers, musicians, writers, architects, and advertising experts — should be immune to losing out to AI, at least in the early stages of development.

Generally speaking, the more creative you have to be to accomplish your job's requirements, the less likely it is you'll someday be replaced by AI technology. There is one obvious caveat here, however. Not everybody is born creative, and creativity isn't something you can readily teach, like math or science.

The degree of creativity necessary in a given position also plays a role. For example, for now, at least, only a human can write a news story that includes real reporting, such as interviews with eyewitnesses and human analysis.

That's not the case for data-driven stories such as financial reporting, however. Already, some of this work is handled by software applications, since it mainly depends on the data rather than human emotion and analysis.

4. Embrace manual labor

Manual labor isn't the most glamorous type of work and, in many cases, doesn't pay well. That could change in the age of AI, considering many manual labor tasks can be difficult for machines to learn.

Take construction, for instance. It's not unfathomable to imagine how machines or robots may one day be able to construct things with little or no manual labor necessary. This could speed up the process and also cut down on work-related accidents and injuries.

At the same time, if a construction project includes constantly walking over uneven terrain, that's a job best left to humans. This is where a phenomenon known as Moravec's Paradox comes into play. It's a 1980s-era idea that says computers have difficulty with some tasks humans find easy, and vice versa.

One example is folding a towel. For most humans, it takes just a few seconds to fold a towel, but past examples have shown that it can take as long as 25 minutes for a robot to complete the same task. Put another way, if your job includes some level of manual labor, it should remain safe for the foreseeable future, even if those manual tasks seem relatively basic.

5. Strategize your future

With more and more mundane tasks being handed over to AI, some workers are focusing on asking better questions and generally being more innovative. Even if a company or industry one day has most of its tasks completed by AI machines or robots, they will still need strategists to help determine the direction of said company or industry.

Sure, machines can offer strategic tips based on trends seen in historical data. That neglects the human element, however. Sometimes, no matter what the data says, certain situations have a certain feel that you can sense, but AI may not be able to pick up on.

Take the game of baseball, for example. These days, data and ultraspecific statistics play a huge role in which players a team chooses to sign and use. Yet no matter what the computer analytics say, players still need to pass the manager's eye test. After all, the game is played on the field, not on paper.

In the end, there's no stopping the rise of robots. AI will only continue to grow and play a larger role in our lives. That may sound a bit frightening, but as long as you're able to develop knowledge and skills that are uniquely human, you should be spared from the looming AI workplace revolution.

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