With AI set to cause massive disruption across many sectors, what skills will the workforce of the future require?
Films have long made us aware of the potential of AI but many of these far-fetched ideas are now becoming a reality. In fact, 2016 may be the year we look back on in decades to come and declare was the time when AI went mainstream. And this suggestion has been supported by the increasing investment pouring into the space this year, with global heavyweights like Twitter buying British startups like Magic Pony Technology.
AI is not so much sweeping across our world as seeping into it. A combination of enormous computing power and the latest deep-learning techniques are promising to give us better medical diagnoses, better products, better diets and better lives. Soon it might even be able to give us new Elvis songs.
Shaping the workforce of the future
Earlier this month, Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, warned that up to 15 million British jobs could be replaced by robots – and he’s right. Just as the industrial revolution changed the face of manufacturing, AI will do the same to the service industry, causing mass disruption. The truth is, we’re already seeing it in play as agile businesses begin to use AI as an opportunity for growth, creating as many jobs as it is destroying. Businesses need to start looking at how they can retrain drivers and office assistants to become data analysts, trip optimisers and work in other professional roles we don’t yet know we need.
Looking at the bigger picture, this means a radical overhaul in our education system to build a future workforce fit for purpose. Today, we are still creating employees to be professionals based on the retention of large and broad volumes of knowledge. Yet computers already have that capability. They can do it better, quicker and more efficiently than people. But what AI can’t do yet is create, empathise, imagine and cooperate, to name just a few. These most basic of human skills will be the last bastion looking out against automation and ones around which we will look to build the workforce of tomorrow.
Making the most of the age of machines
The drive to automate will be strongly facilitated by what we want machines to do versus what we want humans to do. Most observers agree that AI is a dual use technology, capable of both great good and great harm and it’s this dichotomy that we must wrestle with – and hopefully overcome.
Either way, AI remains the greatest scientific challenge of our times and helping it reach its potential will require the sharing of ideas across countries, companies, labs and academia. Despite the astonishing advances made so far, we’re a long way from having machines that are as intelligent as humans – or even rats. So far, we’ve seen only 1% of what AI can do.