One day, billionaire Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and other companies, sent a message that left more than one person cold: Artificial Intelligence (AI) will make jobs a little pointless. These words opened the discussion to ask what we can expect in the workplace and what new professions need to be created for the next generations.
The scene occurred in Shanghai during the World Conference on Artificial Intelligence in December 2021.
“If you’re working on something that involves people or engineering, it’s probably a good focus for your future,” Musk said.
He recommended that young people study an engineering field, adding that those who know how to program AI software will be the best paid and will experience the least unemployment.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) warns that we are living through an unprecedented digital revolution in terms of its speed, scope, and impact on the system in the text The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What it Means, How to Respond.
“It is disrupting almost every industry in every country,” it explains.
In his talk in Shanghai, Musk also predicted that companies with interpersonal relationships will continue to thrive.
Carl Benedikt Frey, director of The Future of Work program at the University of Oxford, agrees with the tycoon.
For him, technology is far from “replacing managers who motivate their colleagues, make teams work together effectively, negotiate a new contract with a client, and persuade the company of the right strategy. All these tasks are far from being automated.”
Benedikt Frey is co-author of the article The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation?
According to this, 47% of jobs in the United States are at risk of being automated, and it is likely that workers in transportation and logistics, production and assembly, call centers, and cashiers will be replaced by machines in the near future.
The study also identified three areas in which human performance is critical: those related to complex human interactions, creativity, and perception and manipulation.
“For example,” Benedikt Frey explains to TecScience, “when you clean your house, you find a lot of different objects. You need to be able to identify what is useful, which is something that can easily be explained to a human but not to an algorithm. How do you identify a document you find on the floor that is for a tax return from a piece of trash that needs to be thrown out?”
The WEF estimates that companies will adopt technologies such as e-commerce, big data, and cloud computing by 2025.
There is also interest in encryption, reflecting the new vulnerability of the digital age, and increased adoption of Artificial Intelligence and humanoid robots.
The WEF report also mentions that the demand for job skills will change in the next five years. The skills that are gaining relevance are critical thinking, analysis, and problem solving, along with self-management skills, i.e. active learning, resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility.
Dilemmas for the future of work
Emilio Muñozcano, Business Intelligence Manager at Logrand Entertainment Group, with more than 20 years working in data analytics and digital transformation, is convinced that the challenge today is acceleration. “The question is, do company professionals have time to retrain themselves to optimize their use of tools? Do we have clarity about the skills we will need in 20 or even 5 years?” he asks.
The WEF presents compelling figures in this regard. It reports company projections that 40% of their workers will require retraining in six months or less and 94% of leading businesses expect their employees to learn new skills on the job.
This is a sharp increase in projections when compared to the expectation of 65% in 2018.
Graciela Rojas, president of STEM Movement, has no doubt that teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is fundamental to sustainable development and social wellbeing, the reason she founded the organization in 2017.
She warns that 65% of the jobs that will be held by those currently between the ages of 9 and 19 do not yet exist. “We need to develop problem-solving skills that they can apply.”
She says that 8 of the top 10 highest paying jobs today are based on STEM skills.
However, STEM skills require interdisciplinary education. This approach involves linking pure and hard science, technology, engineering, and mathematics subjects with others that allow the development of humanistic training, creativity, and innovation.
Rojas points to the inclusion of women as another relevant consideration. “UNESCO studies indicate that women represent 30% of people in science and 3% in technology. It’s very low in these high-potential fields.”
The challenge is education
It is true that computers are better, more efficient, and faster than people in some areas, and this generates uncertainty.
However, there are activities that machines don’t do well, and that’s where people can still thrive.
This is the view held by Joaquín Guerra Achem, Vice Rector for Educational Innovation and Academic Standards at Tecnológico de Monterrey.
“We need to continue to have the ability to develop important things and understand which ones can be done with a computer. Therefore, education becomes more relevant.”
At the University of Oxford, students learn to discuss and write essays. This makes them think critically and encourages their social interaction.
“They need digital skills to handle computers and to be good at math. It’s important to remember that non-automatable tasks are related to complex interactions and creativity. Those aren’t skills that are often emphasized,” says Benedikt Frey.
Work is relevant to everyone, so we need to understand how the market is evolving and what kinds of skills we will need in order to thrive in the age of AI and automation, says Benedikt Frey, who has advised governments and international organizations, including the G20, the OECD, the European Commission, and the United Nations.
“Ensuring that a large part of the population has the benefits of the technological development we are seeing is a global goal worth studying that has many implications beyond just the labor market.”
Reflecting on the disruptive effects of technology on human lives, Israeli philosopher and historian Yuval Noah Harari, who gave a talk at the 2021 Sura Summit, proposes that human reinvention is related to the development of mental flexibility and full acceptance of the uncertainty of the future.
“We’re highly adaptable beings. Today, more than ever, we can harness our capacity for empathy and cooperation to seek a better future for everyone,” he said.
Thus, the technological revolution is rapidly changing the world of work and universities.
The professions that are emerging and being created today will be key to providing employment to the coming generations.