Future Skills in the AI and post-AI era

Sunday, March 17, 2024 »

Today, with Wikipedia and Google in our pockets, we no longer need to remember all historical details, but we need to have an opinion and the willingness to learn. Every movie-maker, every game designer, every author seems to have a political motivation and sitting back and enjoying is no longer an option. After watching a recent movie about Cleopatra, Napoleon, Vikings, or the Roman Emperors one should have the reflex to verify facts. For example, one will notice that each of those movies require a voluminous book to enumerate inaccuracies. Even more important is to understand why the movie-maker did history such injustice. The lesson is that humans are inferior to machines when it comes to remembering facts. This has been established a while ago, and education is already adapting to it. However, there is much more to come.

With the benefit of hindsight, all changes seem obvious. However, it is nearly impossible to predict inventions and changes that we yet have to see. For example, since the 1950s a career in IT and programming has been guaranteed to be a great choice. With the advent of AI software engineers (like Devin, last week) that will soon be over. Till 2 years ago, the best advice one could give a student was to study and be ambitious in the pursuit of the highest intellectual challenges. That is no longer a silver bullet. It appears that intellectual jobs are easier to be replaced by machines than jobs that require navigating the complexities of the physical world.

We are at a turning point of history, and just as in the 1910s, we had no idea what the car or plane would do to our landscape, habits, health, cities, warfare, etc. Today we have only faint clues what AI could do to the fabric of our society, but we have no crystal ball that tells the future.

While we believed that we would be superior in thinking, strategy (eg. chess and go), strategy with imperfect information (e.g Stratego), creativity, reading emotions, guessing intend, etc. All of this became history in the last decade. Robots are better in strategy games, are already fantastic artists, creators, and they are genuinely creative, etc. On top of this, machines are able to digest more information in minutes than any person could do in a whole life.

However, the world will still need the following people:

  1. empathic leaders: with the Doomsday Clock at 90 seconds before midnight the world needs more than ever people with an open mind, people who want to do good and make the ethical choices even when no-one is watching, people who want humanity to succeed, people who can bring diverse individuals together;
  2. physical workers: people finishing the build of a house, working on high voltage cables, carers and nurses. These jobs are hard to replace by machines and humans will need to do them for a while.
  3. scientists to prepare the next industrial revolution beyond AI. Periods of economic growth seem to be a good way to prevent destructive wars (e.g. both world wars happened in periods of economic depression). After AI, we will see the revolution of quantum computers, and after that I’m rooting for nanotechnology and biotechnology. While AI will help dramatically in those endeavors, the world needs scientists to prepare those future revolutions. The scientific and technological challenges have been increasing throughout human history, and we will need AI to help. However, only the scientific method has brought progress, and even if we could, we should not leave this up to AI alone;
  4. original thinkers who value virtue, critical thinkers who can see through a world of deep fakes. In a world where everything could be fake, it becomes easy to be misled. The world needs more people who act intentionally virtuously, especially when no one is watching;
  5. people who value the physical world, soon it will be a delightful alternative to hide in a fantasy world of virtual reality; it will most likely become an addiction similar to narcotics causing people to become dysfunctional citizens. This addiction seems much more dangerous than alcohol or narcotics. Indulging in excessive gaming, VR, or immersive movies is legal and easy to start and much more than narcotics one can exactly choose to be what one wants. On top of that, VR will soon be nearly indistinguishable from reality, and hence an excellent escape the complexity and frustration of their physical existence;
  6. people with professions that we don’t have now Till a few months ago, the job “prompt engineer” did not exist. Thousands of great professional choices that exist today didn’t exist 20 years ago or have been transformed dramatically. Since it is not possible today to predict what will be a good job in the next decade, it is essential to be flexible, open-minded, and continue to learn and adapt. What we need is lifelong learners.

It would be equally valuable to think of professions that won’t be needed anymore or will profoundly change due to the mass adoption of AI. Jobs such as medical doctors, judges, artists of all kinds, programmer, designer, architect, driver, food delivery, etc. will still be important, but AI will dramatically change how it will be done. The spectrum of change will be from total annihilation of the human in the role (soon to happen for e.g. food delivery, personal trainer, etc.) to AI assisted human. Even for those jobs where humans make the ultimate decisions, it is plausible to think that a model of mass solutions executed by robots and humans considering the outliers – think along the lines of the 80/20 rule. For example 80% of medical diagnoses can be done by a robot (e.g. diagnosis of a common cold), and only 20% of patients consult a doctor. While today, most people value the human touch (for a driver, personal trainer, or doctor for example) soon enough AI will outperform its human counterparts so much that the human alternative will be seen as inferior. No human doctor, for example, can keep pace with the vast amount of research being produced, monitor constantly parameters such as weight, and hundreds of molecules in urine and excrement as your personal medical assistant connected to sensors your toilet can do every day. Within decades humans will be far left behind in the precision of their diagnosis, quality of follow up, and personalization of the service.

Keeping this in mind, I would argue that the following skills will be a good investment:

  1. Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving. The ability to approach problems from different angles, think critically about possible solutions, and solve them effectively is crucial. Using the scientific method to distinguish fake from fact.
  2. Digital Literacy and Coding. While the number of programmers will be more limited, it will be critical to audit machine generated code, we need a lot more understanding to keep machines benevolent and transparent, and we need to keep making progress.
  3. Data Science. As AI and machine learning become more ubiquitous, understanding how to interpret and work with data remains a valuable skill. This also ties in with understanding what conclusions are true and which not. Furthermore, while bias in data and models can be addressed there is no silver bullet and ethical choices become more important (e.g. the famous question of who the AI driver should kill in case killing cannot be avoided, or should we –in order to avoid gender discrimination– not use gender for car insurance and hence increase prices for all? Or should ladies finance the damage done by men that driver more reckless?)
  4. Emotional Intelligence and Communication. The ability to understand and manage emotions, and communicate effectively will remain vital. AI can help here a lot, but it will remain important to be able to speak up in a meeting and formulate a coherent opinion. Sure, we can have AI that puts ideas in our mind or on our AI eye lenses, but that is unlikely to be our opinion
  5. Resilience, Motivation, Leadership, Social Influence, and Technological Literacy. While an AI manager will soon be possible, in inspiring leader is bound to be human for long decades.
  6. Adaptability and Lifelong Learning: The rapid pace of technological change has brought us to a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world (aka “VUCA world”), this means that adaptability and commitment to lifelong learning are essential.
  7. Integrity, self-awareness, courage, and a deep understanding of ethics. To learn from mistakes and improve, people who own their mistakes, people who understand that their triggers and weaknesses are their responsibility, people who need no safe place to hide from facts and opinions, people who own their thoughts.
  8. People who accept their fate and focus on what is within their control. People who show resilience in the face of adversary, take responsibility over own thoughts and actions, don’t look for excuses or an easy way out, but have the courage to play the cards they have been dealt.

In conclusion, the AI and post-AI era will demand a diverse set of skills. As we navigate this rapidly evolving landscape, critical thinking and problem-solving will be paramount, enabling us to discern fact from fiction and approach challenges from various perspectives. Digital literacy and coding will remain important, not just for creating new technologies, but for understanding and auditing the ones that already exist. Data science skills will be invaluable as we strive to make sense of the vast amounts of information generated by AI systems. In order for humans to remain in the driving seat, school should focus on production passionate people that follow the ethos of a virtuous life and can defend an ethical stance.