Last month marked the anniversary of the Luddite rebellion, a series of riots in 1811 protesting the introduction of new machinery to the cotton industry. Many workers lost their jobs, but as the industrial revolution progressed it paved the way for a whole new set of jobs in manufacturing and a host of other industries.
Fast forward 200 years, and people are still up in arms over the advent of transformative technologies – most recently in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation. Even a tech pioneer like Elon Musk has expressed fears around AI, calling it the “worst event in the history of our civilization.”
While there will be job elimination in every industry, modern-day Luddites must realize that the need for “human” workers will never go out of style, especially for those who can work alongside these new machines.
While workers with strong science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) backgrounds will be in greater demand than ever, these skills will have little value without key human traits of creativity, emotional sensitivity, judgment, and understanding of human relationships. The not-too-distant future of work will mean working alongside machines. To do this right, workers at every level need to complement the machines, not compete with them. This will require an arsenal of both left- and right-brained skills, or what I call “STEM+” workers.
Here are three fundamental skills that every worker will need to succeed in the age of AI and automation:
Out-of-the-box thinking: Machines thrive off patterns and predictions, but what about the work that doesn’t fall neatly into such categories? This is where the need for creativity arises.
AI and other technologies are actually creating more opportunities to be creative, as humans can use creativity to produce value where machines cannot. For example, while machines can collect and analyze data rapidly, humans can provide logical inferences and engage in abstract thinking to identify opportunities to push boundaries and innovate. Think about the rise of technology related to music creation. Just a few decades ago, I would have needed to spend years mastering an instrument or studying music theory to compose and play an original song. Today, my son can use technology to compose a symphony and conduct an entire chamber orchestra with just one computer.
Ethical judgment: Soon, the cost of prediction will plummet to virtually nothing. AI-driven prediction will equip humans with the information necessary to make more accurate health diagnoses/prognoses, determine financial outcomes, and even foresee the results of Supreme Court cases. But with the advancement of prediction technology, there will be a greater need for reliable and insightful human judgment. Ethical judgment is needed at every step of AI, from creating, to implementing, to monitoring. If ethics aren’t in place throughout, we could see strong biases in AI that could potentially make the technology less productive.
Employees with the skills to make complex decisions based on a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data will hold the key to industries like insurance, healthcare, and communication–any field dealing directly with people. We’re already seeing the demand for responsible judgment in the media industry, as every company struggles to weed out fake news, trolls, and unsuitable content from their websites. Algorithms and bots are often responsible for aggregating these stories in the first place, but human judgment is still needed to ensure accurate information is disseminated responsibly.
We decide the “rules of play” and this requires thinking ethically as we code and train AI applications.
Insatiable curiosity: The days of only learning for 20 years and working for 40 are long over. While most of us are born with a natural sense of curiosity, it’s critical that we allow ourselves to continue to question, experiment, and seek out new opportunities to learn.
Staying curious throughout our professional lives enables us to seek out innovative solutions when the answer to a challenge is not immediately apparent. More importantly, curiosity helps us to fail fast, recognize our errors even faster, and adjust course accordingly. As increasingly advanced technologies permeate our workplaces, we must indulge our curiosity to learn how these new technologies work, how to leverage them to make ourselves more productive, and identify the skill sets we’ll need to invest our time in mastering. Think about the meteoric rise of blockchain, a technology that continues to confound many people. If we are curious about blockchain rather than wary, we can discover new applications for the technology and potentially enhance a company’s security, accuracy, customer experiences, and more.
The future of work will be reshaped by machines, but the need for decidedly human skills is only growing. By embracing their creative side, trusting their judgment, and staying curious, workers can win.
Tiger Tyagarajan is CEO of Genpact, a professional services firm focused on digital transformation.