Get ready for a massive shift in the way we work. The future of work is not going to be so easy to navigate when AI enters the workplace.
Gig vs. AI, what’s the difference?
The gig economy relies on platforms to coordinate increasingly large groups of people in ever more sophisticated tasks, the approaching AI economy relies on humans to understand the bigger picture in order to complement the machines, that without a doubt will soon take over much of the tedious tasks in our everyday work.
How does the gig economy function today?
When an Uber or Lyft driver picks me up and drops me off, a pretty smart platform coordinates my user profile data, the driver GPS, my GPS, the traffic situation on the way to where I need to go and my credit card data, to seamlessly charge me when I leave the car. All without me having to do anything after I have initially hail the car on my app. The gig of driving me is only possible because there is a hidden massive computing power behind everything, before I get into the car of a stranger. The driver and user ratings, the matching algorithms, the predictive analytics and the pricing algorithms are invisible to me and the driver. Yet we both rely on them, to function properly in the background, to make this gig work.
What will AI mean to the future of work?
The economic shift that will be caused by AI entering the field of task coordination is much bigger than most people anticipate. With up to 50 % of tasks being replaced by smart machines and robotic automation we are facing not a coordination problem but an economic problem of talent. If you have the skill set necessary to double your productivity, even after all the repetitive tasks have been eliminated from your daily list of projects, you will be fine. If however – and I believe this is true for more than 30% of the workforce in the Western world – you do not know how to live up to the pressure, to be able to perform tasks a machine cannot do, at twice the level then you are in trouble.
What it means to you
Are you amazing at using Excel? Do you know all the tricks and shortcuts? Are you good at using it that you regularly get asked to work on Excel functions across different projects? What if I told you that your skill and expertise will no longer justify your salary once a smart machine outsmarts you in the use of Excel sheets? And trust me they will outsmart us in this task. So what are you going to do to protect yourself?
How are we prepared?
Organizations and politicians are absolutely unprepared for the shift in work this is going to cause.
We will have a variety of knowledge workers, highly skilled and professionally needed, well trained and integrated into organizations, hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of them without any justification to keep them on the payroll.
What happened when we introduced robotics to manufacturing and assembly lines across the planet? This is going to happen again when skilled knowledge workers are replaced with automation driven by Artificial Intelligence. From machine learning to unsupervised deep learning, natural language processing and convolutional neural networks, we will see an incredibly powerful new coworker by our side at all times, one who will make us question what we are actually good at.
Organizations and society in general will have to answer the question about what makes a human a valuable being.
No longer can we base this answer on the economic contribution that individuals bring to the table. The answer has to be centered around the challenge of progress, not the question of growth. Humans will have to redefine their skills and purpose if they want to be part of the new hyper-productive human-machine workforce. Until then we need to ask ourselves which of the tasks we perform every day could be augmented, and how we would expand on the uniquely human capabilities each of us can bring to the mix.
Read more about the rise of smart machines and how they fundamentally change how we live and work. For more tips on how to prepare for the Age of AI, grab Christoph’s new book “Don’t Be a Robot – Seven Survival Strategies in the Age of Artificial Intelligence”.
Author: Christoph Burkhardt