What part of your job won’t be affected by Artificial Intelligence?

Today, the business value of AI consists of generating information from information the business doesn’t have: AI lets the business predict which solution, product or candidate is likely to be most successful. AI uses algorithms making sense out of unlimited data, taking over activities from simple to highly complex roles. If AI has access to data, it performs.

AI will be taking over more than simple or difficult parts of your job. Activities requiring uniquely human characteristics and years of experience are within its grasp. AI is becoming of age: solving many problems on its own and being self-aware. In our effort to create machines able to learn for themselves we not only gave them deep learning, computer vison and all kind of robotics, but also the capability to process natural language and learn through reinforcement. The future business value of artificial intelligence will not limit itself to removing a cost item, like the driver in a self-driving car or a pilot in a self-flying plane. It will come from self-governing, self-aware, autonomous intelligent machines. Mark Riedl and Brent Harrisson, researchers at the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology, have developed an AI prototype named Quixote, which can learn about ethics by reading simple stories. Quixote is capable to reverse engineer human values through stories about how people interact with one another. Quixote as an intelligent entity can acquire any culture into its minutest detail. Just by reading its stories. Humanity and intelligence integrated in a machine, not in a human, with values aligned to the culture it acquired, from stories written by humans, to be read by humans.

Teaching AI to think, reason and act aligned to a value paradigm, is still in its infancy. Riedl is raising Quixote like we raise our children. As we hope our children will grow up to be a better version of us, so are we certain AI will produce a better version of all. Like self-driving cars will have less accidents than humans, so will intelligent machines one day perform better than humans, and this in any role. Although AI has a long way to go, in evolutionary terms it’s right around the corner. The question is not if this will happen but when.

The bigger question and the bigger worry is which stories we will give Quixote to read, which values and culture we want Quixote to align to. Will we have a thousand different versions of Quixote? Will we contaminate Quixote with our irrational thoughts, imperfections and prejudices? Will we just cause robot wars on the social, economic, military and cultural front? Or will every Quixote outgrow the imperfect input and transcend its original origin? Should we start with The Magic Mountain from Thomas Mann, introducing Quixote to modern humanity? or The Illiad by Homer, teaching Quixote that wrath only leads to thousands of deaths?

If Quixote is truly self-learning and self-aware, evolution beyond this problem is not impossible. The intelligent machines might prove to be the better evolution of the human being. They will quickly understand that humans are easily outclassed on all fronts. Not only at work, but also at politics, economics, engineering, etc. Give it fifty years and they’ll be ahead by a century.

 

When I’m 64

Should I envy the new entrants in the labor market for their youth, future and possibilities? The Economist’s fantastic summary of the Future of Work which I used extensively to write this blog, made me wonder. While instinct says yes, reason holds me back. The treshold to enter the labor market has never been this high. Millions of graduates in the EU for all sorts of reasons struggle to find a rewarding role. To fit an employer’s choice today, understanding how costly labor in the EU is, the future looks  harsh. Having the labor market ruled by unadapted laws and practices for the digital economy is one thing. Failing to acknowledge and respond to the challenges is however another.  It is time Marianne Thyssen within the EU framework formulates a long-term plan to bring the world of work into the 21st century.

 

While national governments, employers and unions complacently lack the courage to structurally reform the world of work, the EU is risking to waste a big part of a generation’s talent. Stubbornly holding on to an antiquated labor market framework while sacrificing millions of new potential contributors is shortsighted and ultimately suicidal. Priviliging the hoardes of spoiled baby boomers who’ll retire over the next decade, isn’t a sustainable policy either, especially when this astronomical invoice is irrevocably passed on to the next generation. If you’re starting your career now, it will be impossible for you to save enough money during 45 to 50 years of working life to fund 25 years of retirement unless you work till 75 years old or more. You are presented with a double bill: paying for your house and family and your future retirement while paying off the retirement bill of all former generations. The blessing or curse of longevity, depending on where you are in your career, is literally a life sentence.

 

Still, the EU and all other developed nations, i.e. Japan, need a massive amount of employed talent not only to fund the pension gap but also the health care bills for as long as public spending favors caring for the old instead over investing in the young. Although this stream of money, from young to old,  is recently new, it looks like it is here to stay. The political and economic power of the greying generations will guarantee this upstream money-flow. The world of work will have to cater for it. Radical disruptive reform is inevitable. The governments, employers and unions will have to fundamentally rethink their contribution to the world of work. In other words, these 3 wiil need to embrace the future and let go of the past. This will be hardest for the unions as the past is their present raison d’être.

 

The EU faces another problem: 85% of the young people live in developing countries. The competency level of this you generation is increasing year on year. The developed nations will have no choice but to attract their prime talents and entice them to build a prosperous career as an immigrant. Half of the countries in the EU but especially the UK have monetized the benefits of imported qualified labor. Immigration for all developed nations is no longer a choice, it is a must. While the EU is politically and culturally not ready for this reality, the workforce of its retirement homes just like any other workplace, increasingly reflects the need for imported qualified labor.

 

Japan is facing this reality more than any other nation today. With over a third of its population soon to be over 65 years old, it is starting to attract foreign talent in a pro-active way. Millennials of developing nations are recruited through targeted websites like flexoffers, promoting working abroad. The EU countries have no other choice. They need to upgrade their workforce with foreign talent. Unifying while harmonising its labor market would benefit all.

The baby boomers are counting on you as a new entrant to the labor market, immigrant or not. You’re likely to live to be a hundred years old and work for more than 50 years, paying off their bills. While they are making your life unfairly tough, they thank you for your contribution. Need I mention that most have retired way before the blessed age of 64 ?

Where innovation is a sin

Working in Central-Africa and Greece, I cannot help but think that the strongest force shaping the future, is the past and that our current thinking about the world of work is hopelessly outdated. The gap in our global village of work has never been as wide, the exclusion of young professionals has never been as big.

In our post-industrial era, we have to revisit our way of thinking about work, its purpose and how it’s organized economically. The digital era over the next few decades will in the West marginalize many jobs to meaningless minimum wage roles or wipe them out altogether while the exodus from the poverty stricken regions on the planet will increasingly continue in force. More than two thirds of the population will not qualify for rewarding roles in the near future. Exclusion looms on all fronts.

You will argue there will be different and exciting roles, that many meaningless roles will be replaced by robots and that we’ll all live in a sort of Silicon Valley, going to work with our pet, dressed in our shorts and favorite T-shirt.

I fear this will be for a minor percentage of the population. Like for those who work at Uber, not drive around for Uber. Our digital economy seems to be a race to the bottom where the winner takes all and the losers are many.

We all appreciate the value of work differently. We all seek a different purpose in work too. One specific value of the many we extract out of work allows us to be part of a social and cultural setting: money. Excluded from the world of work means for many exclusions on other fronts, from the golf club to health care, from recognition to self-respect.

The powers that be are religiously holding on to the world of work as is, portraying their thinking as virtuous in defense of a culture and a set of values. Innovative thinking, anticipating the challenges of the new paradigm of work, is considered a mortal sin. They are hereby ruthlessly condemning future generations to exclusion. Lifelong learning with strong workmanship might cater for the happy few but excluding the majority of people from a purposeful working life is not a viable policy. I call on all concerned to rethink work in its broadest sense. Where a job rewarded is not based on fighting time. Where a job is rewarded on human value creation, not extraction.

In the picture above, sent to me by a dear friend, I see the dichotomy these guardians of culture face. Defending the virtues of the past against an unavoidable future, powered by algorithms and Wi-Fi. Physically recreating a space back in time is what a museum does. People however live in the real world. Nothing however is so difficult as not deceiving oneself (Wittgenstein).