Working with Intelligent Machines

Your Job Is Going Away

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

I’m not talking just about the hourly job, I’m talking about all jobs. They are going away. The exit pace is increasing. Inexorably. Jobs will either actually go away (as in no longer needed) or they will change so appreciably as to not be recognizable as the same job. From now on, you (we), will have to learn how to work with intelligent machines in order to provide the maximum value to employers. We will have to contend with machines replacing humans in many jobs – not just the repetitive manufacturing job. I’ve been saying this for some time now; but was once again reminded when Fareed Zackaria interviewed the authors of The Second Machine Age this past week (yes, it is on my to read list now!)

This fact that mid-level jobs are going away and all jobs are quickly changing is what’s missing in our economic models. Many pundits are still talking about how many jobs “need to be created” in order to get back on track. Well, maybe so, but they aren’t going to be the same jobs and they aren’t going to be created at the same volume as the old model. So what happens when you put that in your spreadsheet (or super computer) and crunch it? I don’t see very many folks doing that. And those few who do are often accused of giving up on America. I say, “no they are not.” They are giving up on a failed economic model and looking for new ideas, new solutions, new models.

We sure do need some ideas and innovative ways of looking at what’s so. If you play the mind game and accept that technology is forever changing our jobs at all levels (including the c-suite), that the pace of technological advance is accelerating and that it will also create changing global economies, then the issues around what we need to address become clearer, even if the solutions are perhaps less clear. We know where we’re headed: Bifurcated population between those who know how to work beside intelligent machines (high value jobs) and those who do not (low value jobs). Between employed an unemployed. Between those who “own the machines” and those who are replaced by the machines.

Simple solutions will fail. The global economic system is way too complex. Trying new incremental changes in parallel while watching and correcting for the unintended consequences will work. It will also take time, of course. So we need to start sooner rather than later.

There are some obvious things with which to start right away. Educating our people on how to live with, use and work alongside the emerging intelligent machines is critical in my mind. To do that, we need to revamp education to take advantage of today’s technology as well as plan ahead for technological evolution. We need to also work on just what it means to have a “safety net” or support for those who have not been able to or cannot learn how to work with intelligent machines.

The question is, how are we as business and political leaders stepping up to this challenge? How will we help shape education for future generations so that we have the employees we need? Can we afford to wait and see if our institutions catch up or do we need to help make it happen – now?