AI and your job plans
It’s important to consider what it will mean to your career in the future
It does not matter what career field you are in — anything from finance to fashion is being and will increasingly be impacted by artificial intelligence, or AI. Whether you believe AI will create lives of no-work luxury for us all or will end civilization as we know it, our challenge in the 21st century is to understand and participate in shaping AI’s repercussions. Therefore, when pondering your career long game, a critical planning component is to consider the impact AI will have on what you do for a living.
So what is AI? I like Kathryn Hume’s (vice president of product and strategy for Integrate.ai) working definition, which is that AI is whatever computers can’t do until they can. This implies that AI is a moving target, compiling and sorting vast amounts of data one year to leveraging machine learning that promotes employment obsolescence the next. What once passed for AI is now integrated into standard operating procedure while we brace for unexpected conclusions derived from ever more sophisticated machines “thinking” like superhumans.
AI certainly engenders anxiety. Sam Daly (Builtin.com) reports on a 2018 survey in which 72% of respondents conveyed concern for human jobs being subsumed by technology. Even Elon Musk of electric car and SpaceX fame refers to AI as more dangerous than nukes. And, of course, the current presidential campaign includes a candidate, Andrew Yang, who showcases a universal basic income for all Americans to help offset the workforce changes and employment displacement being caused by increased automation or AI.
Given this AI anguish, what is a career planner to do?
To begin, it may help to view AI as something actually old school, as in business progress and development processes requiring change management procedures aimed toward adoption of innovations leading to competitive advantages.
In other words, AI may be no more threatening than any other big change. In this case, the adjustment is in the area of human-machine collaboration. (But we did that during the Industrial Revolution, right?)
Also, let’s not think of AI as Alien Intelligence. There is nothing otherworldly going on here, despite how opaque AI may seem to the layman. AI is constructed by the design and application of algorithms, which are sets of executable instructions leading to an output. Algorithms can be written to consist of one or many criteria or inputs, ranging from if-then statements to text, images, videos, voice and more.
As the algorithms become more complex, it can be unclear which criterion establishes dominance, but this does not diminish the validity and importance of the outputs.
The quality of the inputs determines the caliber of the results.
For example, if data sets that “train” algorithms are too narrowly selected — too old or demographically skewed — then that limits the scope of the output. We can think of such algorithms as biased.
When relying on AI to plan market capture strategies, for instance, this can matter a lot. “Decisions” made by computers can also be fickle, different from one day to the next, requiring retrospective pattern analysis.
In short, algorithms at this point in time are really good at processing relatively restricted tasks, but far from totally taking over the universe of human capabilities.
Many professional job descriptions will change due to AI. To prepare, develop a nimble and adaptable perspective to change. Don’t wait to have your job transformation be forced onto you. Get out in front of the inevitable and think, for example, about how AI can be used to eliminate mundane parts of your job to free you up for more innovative endeavors. Influence the way AI can improve your performance and the service you provide. By thinking critically about what AI can and cannot do, you have a better chance of determining your professional relevance moving forward.
Bill Ryan, who writes about career, employment and economic topics from his home in North Sutton, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.