Magazine article The Futurist

Highly Human Jobs: As Automation Takes Many Occupations out of People's Hands, There Is Still Much That Humans Can Do to Stay Occupied, Well-Paid, and Even Happy. by Letting Go of Our Search for Tasks That Robots and Computers Can Do Better, We Should Be Developing and Leveraging Our Hyper-Human Skills, Such as Caring, Creating, and Taking Responsibility

Magazine article The Futurist

Highly Human Jobs: As Automation Takes Many Occupations out of People's Hands, There Is Still Much That Humans Can Do to Stay Occupied, Well-Paid, and Even Happy. by Letting Go of Our Search for Tasks That Robots and Computers Can Do Better, We Should Be Developing and Leveraging Our Hyper-Human Skills, Such as Caring, Creating, and Taking Responsibility

Article excerpt

Get ready for the next great occupational downsizing. The world is preparing to minimize the need for humans to perform "knowledge work" as well as simpler forms of service work. The basic reason for this projected shift is simple. Just as mechanical technology got complex enough to perform factory work more economically than human laborers with muscles and manual skill, so electronic technology is fast becoming complex enough to perform know-how work more economically than human brainpower.

This contention applies to knowledge work in which information or definable know-how is paramount. However, future "knowledge work" that also involves highly human skills will abound--if we play our cards right.

While it's true that technical knowledge work may be a wise choice for years to come, we should be prepared for the sudden maturing of Al competition. In the near future, high-tech job openings are likely to exceed the supply of qualified applicants in many fields, such as computer science, especially in the United States. Looking ahead, honing highly human skills in tandem with a tech career offers a safety net.

So what do I mean by "highly human" skills and work? Essentially, they are things that smart machines cannot do, skills that are too quirky, unpredictable, emotional, or intuitive to program or automate--skills like perceptiveness, awareness, responsibility, and caring.

Global Mind Transplant

What's happening in the world today is a vast process of mental transplantation. Thanks to electronic advances, many of our mental processes--from memory to decision making--are being rapidly transferred into computers, microchips, networks, and mechanical devices of all types. It's happening in a way that's altering jobs, transferring wealth, and changing lives.

I call this automation of more and more tasks "off-peopling." Today, even the most high-tech jobs are being downsized and restructured rapidly. They're not likely to resize, and some will disappear entirely. Electronic intelligence is now performing much of the mental work formerly done by secretaries and middle managers, accountants and governmental administrators, product designers and corporate planners, soldiers and salespeople, farmers and restaurateurs, stockbrokers and bank tellers, doctors and diplomats, drivers of delivery vans and drivers of industry.

To a large extent, the human-to-electronic mental transfer is a fait accompli. Many of the things we used to figure out, organize, or remember are now being figured out, organized, and remembered by silicon-based systems.

No service or knowledge-based occupation is exempt. If your income rests on college or grad-school laurels, you might feel immune to impact, but you're not. A few examples:

* Legal profession. Programs that now search legal databases can be augmented to offer advice. Once that happens, would you bother to consult a lawyer on routine issues? Already, there are computer templates that let you write your own contracts or create your own will.

* Medicine. Doctors explain the significance of symptoms and offer health advice. Now, so do many Web sites. Even TV ads offer information for self-diagnosis (however specious), urging us to just ask our doctors for prescriptions. Robotic surgery is coming on strong as an off-peopled profession.

* Advertising. Ad agency personnel check rates in the various media, place ads, and track responses. Already, computers help perform many of these tasks. Software can generate names for new products, encroaching on the creativity of copywriters and account executives.

* Computer programming. Even this profession is far from exempt from electronic takeover. Programming is one of the hottest areas for automation. Software developers constantly look for ways to get more code out of fewer people.

As higher-level know-how is incorporated into electronic systems, every profession will feel the impact--even thought-intensive ones such as spacecraft engineering or particle physics. …

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