These days, it seems the world is in a panic about automation and artificial intelligence. “The Economist” dedicated a special report to the subject of lifelong learning in January, and McKinsey cannot publish reports on the subject fast enough. There are the pessimists and the optimists, and yet, the typical arguments miss the point: We need to prepare for the jobs automation will create.
One optimist is Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster and former world champion who lost a chess match to Deep Blue, an IBM supercomputer. In a recent “Wall Street Journal” article, Kasparov painted a hopeful picture thanks to our core humanity:
“Machines that replace physical labor have allowed us to focus more on what makes us human: our minds. Intelligent machines will continue that process, taking over the more menial aspects of cognition and elevating our mental lives toward creativity, curiosity, beauty and joy. These are what truly make us human, not any particular activity or skill like swinging a hammer—or even playing chess.”
The powerful message is that machines will not only take over menial tasks, but they will also elevate our mental lives and increase our joy. This reality is not far off. Companies are now being confronted with the looming question: How can we maximize the potential of automation for efficiency and for our workforce?
On the pessimistic side, it’s well documented that millions of jobs are about to disappear thanks to machine learning processes. Radiologists are in trouble. Assembly line workers are already operating in a new world. Traders on Wall Street are also becoming obsolete. No job is completely immune to the impact of automation.
But advancement in society depends on human creativity, our ability to organize and our ability to collaborate. These are all skills that must be nurtured. The skills most people need to function successfully in their day jobs range from decision-making, selling, collaborating, problem-solving, coordinating, writing, planning, listening and managing crises. None of these skills will be replaced by computers. In fact, there will likely be growth in jobs requiring these skills.
The challenge is not to ensure there are enough jobs in the economy. Rather, it is to be certain there are enough skilled workers to fill the positions this future portends. And here’s the good news: We already have everything we need to make that future a reality. Technology is the great enabler, but it is not the end in itself. Therefore, companies, governments and organizations should codify their own practices – the skills that make their organizations successful – and use technology to continuously train their workforce on these issues. All the better if it is mobile, social and fun.
In the knowledge economy, the transfer of knowledge from institution to worker will become the most important productivity engine in the world – and it doesn’t stop there. If companies codify their knowledge and successfully transfer it, their workforces will likely interact with that content in a meaningful way. Experiential learning tends to be the “stickiest” or longest lasting and therefore can be leveraged in this massive knowledge transfer. By literally capturing experiences through learning (think of capturing a practice presentation with video or a pitch with audio), we can imagine a future in which artificial intelligence guides employees to their next learning action, to build the skills they need to succeed and grow in their work. Automation then becomes more of a job maker than a job replacer.
The work in this space is just beginning, particularly at the corporate level. Companies will be well served to make strategic investments in building their processes. Unlike the knowledge management of the past, we can imagine an artificial intelligence-enabled knowledge transfer in the future, empowering individuals and offering breakthrough business opportunities to improve the world of work.
If we should have a fear about the future, it should be that we do not use technology and our expertise to prepare our employees, citizens and communities. We must transition skillsets so people can take advantage of this change and we can leverage the new economy that is coming.