Brian Clark is a serial entrepreneur and the host of Unemployable, a podcast and newsletter that helps freelancers and entrepreneurs build powerful small businesses.
Robots are Coming for your Job. Should You Care?
The future of work is changing
The future of work is changing.
Technological advancements can impact nearly every aspect of our jobs, and with continuous innovation, there will undoubtedly be more substantial developments in the years to come. One such development is the notion that robots are coming to take our jobs. While artificial intelligence (AI) is nowhere near sophisticated enough to replace the entire American workforce, the technology does accelerate the automation of existing work and puts many jobs at risk.
In fact, according to a recent Brookings Institution report, a quarter of U.S. jobs will be severely disrupted by robots, automation and intelligent algorithms. While more jobs are becoming automated, fewer jobs are being created. Consequently, in the future, fewer people will have traditional jobs, and in these positions, they’ll likely be paid well but worked to death.
Who lands these jobs? The people most capable of succeeding outside of traditional employment. Throughout the rest of this article, we’ll discuss the unique set of skills, character traits and attitudes needed in order to not be replaced, but to make yourself irreplaceable in the future of work.
Prepare for Short-Term, Project-Based Work
While the assumption is that companies shedding employees in favor of automation will massively disrupt the workforce, the bigger issue surrounds whether the remaining people with desirable skills actually will even accept employment. If job security no longer exists, what’s the point?
When talented employees are in high demand, the short-term, project-based “Hollywood” model begins to make more sense when it comes to work. Much like in Hollywood, employees on the sets of films and TV programs are hired as “free agents,” seamlessly coming together to get the job done: a project is identified, a team is assembled, the team works together for exactly as long as necessary to complete the task, then the team goes their separate way, onto the next project.
Today, this model is even being used to build transportation infrastructure, design smartphone applications, create new makeup products and launch restaurants as the economy shifts toward short-term, projectbased teams rather than long-term, open-ended jobs. Be ready to collaborate with colleagues you’ve never worked with before and might never work with again — and prepare to meet strict deadlines.
Humans Over Machines
Moving forward, the positions that will be the safest from disruption will require creativity, social intelligence and the ability to interact with complex objects and environments — skills humans have that machines do not.
Defined as “the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work,” creativity still stumps our robot counterparts. Because AI is the product of very strict rules and explicit instructions, it’s difficult for artificially intelligent machines to use their imagination to create something that's truly original. While AI can “learn” a certain aesthetic by analyzing thousands of images and other works of art, genuine creativity remains a uniquely human skill — at least for now.
Social intelligence, or the capacity to know oneself and to know others, is something else robots lack. Because some people believe social intelligence is what defines who we are as humans, robots will always struggle to successfully build relationships and navigate social environments.
Finally, one of the most significant impediments for robots, automation and intelligent algorithms is the ability to interact with complex objects and environments. Despite the ever-growing amount of data in the world, data quality remains problematic. Before robots and AI models can be trained, most data scientists need to ensure their data sets are clean — or else the insights derived are of questionable value. Without a sufficient amount of quality data, it’s difficult to drive the advancement of robots, automation and intelligent algorithms.
Curiosity May Have Killed the Cat, but it Won’t Kill You
Beyond what a 2015 Vice article refers to as the “three bottlenecks to automation,” there’s another unique and crucial characteristic that gives humans an advantage over their machine opposites — curiosity. Machines can learn, but much to Simon Sinek’s chagrin, they can’t ask why. Humans, on the other hand, are born curious.
Curiosity is the definitive trait that drives humanity forward and powers the most innovative and in-demand human prospects — in both the corporate and entrepreneurial worlds. Today, the truly curious individuals are in high demand rather than being avoided by employers (if these individuals aren’t already starting and running their own companies).
While robots are indeed coming for your job, there are steps you can take to ensure you’re prepared for the future of work. Creativity, social intelligence, the ability to interact with complex objects and environments and curiosity are just a few of the critical skills and attitudes you need in order to make yourself irreplaceable.
Discover what sets you apart, what your unique skill set is and how you can use it to energize old industries with new, disruptive approaches. Be ready to offer your complementary skills to a team of disparate freelance professionals in a short-term, project-based environment. Cultivate your creativity and your desire to know. Be inquisitive, ask the important questions and strive to solve problems. Be like Albert Einstein, who famously said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”