What to Learn in the Age of Artificial Intelligence

December 22, 2016 by Mikko Alasaarela

This guest blog is a part of our Christmas season blog series

The Artificial Intelligence (AI) revolution is here. The role of humans in the workforce is rapidly changing, as intelligent algorithms and robots take our traditional jobs at an accelerating pace. We can’t hide from this wave of disruption. To compete for jobs with AI, we need to refocus our learning to a new set of core skills that play to our strengths as human beings. In this post, I will explore what we should learn to stay ahead with our limited human skills. Let’s start by exploring what we should not learn. In other words, the areas where humans will have no hope competing with AI.

#Memorization and raw logic is for computers

Tasks that require raw logic, fast decisions, large memory and the ability to process large quantities of data are perfectly suited for computers. Involving humans would only slow things down. All of these jobs will be performed by computers.  So where do we need large quantities of data to succeed? Look no further than stock exchanges. Currently, 3/4 of all stock trading is performed by algorithms. Similarly, online marketing is now completely driven by real time data. More than 2/3 of all digital display advertising is now programmatic.  But the progress of AI is eating into more complex tasks. Language translation jobs that usually require comprehensive understanding of intent are now gradually moving to AI. Self-driving cars are going to replace the need for vast majority of transportation jobs. Even software development itself has evolved. Mature technology platforms and free and open source code is available everywhere. Human developers now need to acquire new soft skills, learn multiple coding languages, be able to do creative problem solving and understand the big picture.

#Value of developing special knowledge is diminishing

During the past century, long studies at an university to become a skilled specialist has paid off well. In fact it still does, with highly educated lawyers, doctors and other specialists enjoying the highest earnings among professionals. But this is about to change with Artificial Intelligence.  A machine can memorize and learn about every single case in the history of any specialty job. An AI surgeon can quickly analyze every brain surgery ever done with all related data prior an operation. An AI lawyer can quickly review every legal case that has ever gone to court trial relating to a specific dispute, and develop strategies that are the most likely to win given the history. An AI financial advisor can analyze all possible investment strategies in seconds, and recommend the best alternatives given the desired risk profile and requirements of the client.  With computers dominating data and expertise, studying to become a PhD in a single specialty is about to become much less valuable. As I argue later, our ability to adapt and create will be more important.

#Computers make less mistakes

In jobs where an error can have catastrophic consequences, computers have an edge. This is why brain surgeries today are performed by surgical robots, airplanes have autopilot systems, and all transportation will move to self-driving vehicles within our lifetimes. We have learned to trust computers over humans in tasks that require consistent error-free operation. As technology has advanced, we have become accustomed to perfectly operating products and services that rarely, if ever, fail to deliver on their promise. Humans do not have such a luxury. We get sick, forget things, make mistakes, and sometimes lose our temper. As we have grown to expect perfection, technology is much better suited to serve us. So what is it that we humans should learn? What are the areas where we can outperform computers for years to come? We do have three distinct unique advantages over computers that are based on our evolutionary traits — adaptability, creativity and emotional intelligence. 

#Adaptability

We like to ask each other to use “common sense” to judge various situations. Common sense is in the core of our adaptability. We can be thrown in all kinds of situations where everything is new and with common sense, we can navigate around. As surprising as this might sound, common sense is something that will take a long time to build into AI algorithms, or learn automatically via systemic deep learning. Can you develop your common sense further? Yes! There are many guides, books and blog posts, for example here and here on how to learn common sense.  Adaptability is also about our ability to learn new skills that are not connected to our previous roles. You can learn economics, then software development, then user experience design, and then psychology. And then later connect them all together and build an app using your software development skills that applies user experience design to solve a problem better than before, psychology to get users hooked and economics to monetize the app with the best possible business model.  My advice is that you should always be learning something new that is not directly related to your current job. It will increase your range of skills and make you more adaptable. It will also help you find more creative and unexpected solutions to your current work challenges. 

#Creativity

Creativity is also something that humans are better positioned to do than computers. Connecting and mixing different ideas in unexpected ways is something that we humans do all the time. You can almost predict how quickly your job will be destroyed by artificial intelligence by judging how much creativity it requires. The less creativity required, the more likely it is that the job will be done by computers in the near future. Humans thrive in creative roles. We covet creative jobs like actors, musicians, performers, artists, designers, architects, movie or game producers and book authors. We love to play games that enable us to use our creativity.  But there are many more jobs where creativity adds a lot of value. Teachers, scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers, marketers, sales people, and many other professionals can stand out by leveraging their creativity. We often joked with my past co-founder friend that we must look like a pretty scary founder duo as a “creative accountant” and a “creative lawyer”.  You can, and you should, apply creativity in your job, whatever you do. It will make your job more interesting, and create unique value that computers can’t provide as easily. Can you learn to become more creative? Of course you can! There are many books, online guides and blog posts to get you started, for example herehere and here.

#Emotional Intelligence

When jobs requiring rational intelligence and logic move to computers, the role of humans will be to apply emotional intelligence. We need emotional intelligence to build trust, to serve our fellow human beings better, and to create long term relationships, both in business and personal life.  I’ve been saying that while doctors and lawyers may be replaced by artificial intelligence, nurses and great deal negotiators will likely remain human for much longer.  Think about it. Would you get your diagnosis from a human who has 20 years of experience, or from a computer that can quickly look through all cases relating to your condition in the world and give you accurate probabilities of each condition? A computer that can quickly adapt its diagnosis with even the tiniest piece of new data? On the other hand, when you feel sick, you will love the caring human nurse to visit your bedside and to tell you that everything is going to be all right. That is the power of emotional intelligence, right there. The same goes for lawyers. Why would I hire a lawyer to write me contracts when I can use blockchain to do programmatic negotiation and create a fully digital chain of contracts?  But when you are negotiating an exit for your startup, you will love the master negotiator lawyer, the well-respected closer who has successfully closed hundreds of M&A deals in the past. You trust she has the emotional intelligence bridge your desires with the desires of the acquirer, and to create an atmosphere where both of you feel successful doing the deal. And you can most definitely learn emotional intelligence. I have been a life-long student. The small successes and learnings I've gained over the years have given me more fulfilment than I could ever have imagined. Emotional intelligence is a skill everyone should learn, every day.

Mikko Alasaarela

is the founder of Inbot. Inbot was founded to make business a more emotionally intelligent activity. To learn more, you can read Mikko’s blog about the problem with marketing automation.

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