Tell Kids to Get Good at Stuff Smart Machines Can’t Do (Yet)

Student using controller to manipulate robot

“AI won’t obliterate jobs, but it will transform jobs,” said Daniel Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

Pink said he’s told his own kids to “think about what you can do to augment what AI does—work that only humans can do that smart machines cannot.” That includes:

  • creativity;
  • dealing with ambiguity, nuance and poorly defined problems;
  • understanding other’s emotions and point of view;
  • Developing expertise and sense making; and
  • Identifying reliable sources.

He sees the skill requirements “going up and up” in all jobs, but particularly sales, where targeting is becoming more sophisticated and relationships are more important than ever.

Physicist and futurist Michio Kaku agrees with Pink, “The jobs of the future will be what robots can’t do.” He sees jobs involving repetitive tasks or repetitive rule application going away. Nonrepetitive blue collar jobs—garbage collection, construction, gardening—will thrive but won’t pay very well. Good paying jobs will “engage in intellectual capitalism” involving creativitiy, imagination, leadership, analysis, humor, writing and experimentation.

Michiu Kaku Giving Speech on Smart Machines

NPR’s Anya Kamentz sees three things people can do that robots can’t:

  • Give a hug: empathy, collaboration, communication and leadership skills.
  • Solve a mystery: A computer program can investigate any question. But you need a person to actually generate a question. Curiosity, the starting point for innovation. Sometimes scientists call this “problem finding.”
  • Tell a story: Finding what’s relevant in a sea of data. Applying values, ethics or morals to a situation. And the creative application of aesthetic principles.

Illustration of Girl speaking, investigating with magnifying glass, and holding a paper with a heart on it

The Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institution released a report titled Skills For A Changing World that illustrates how education lags in terms of technological progress, which leads to waves of “social pain.”

Graph showing alternating cycles where technology and skills cycle as being ahead or behind each other

Avoiding waves of “social pain” will require societies to cultivate a breadth of skills. In addition to literacy and numeracy, Brookings predicts that teamwork, collaboration, critical thinking and perseverance will grow in importance. They add digital literacy—”the ability to filter, analyze, and create meaning from the vast amounts of information available online.”

The ability to demonstrate and transfer skills is important. “Young people will increasingly need to focus on making use of what they know and less on just mastering bodies of knowledge.”

Novel challenges

In his TED talk, Kaggle CEO Anthony Goldbloom said, “We have no chance of competing on frequent high-volume tasks.” But computers “can’t handle things they haven’t seen many times before.”

Anthony Golbloom giving speech

“Machines are getting getting smarter and smarter on high volume tasks,” said GoldBloom. But they are not making progress on novel situations. That’s why humans will continue to create business strategies and copy in marketing campaigns. Goldbloom’s advice to young people? ”Let every day bring you a new challenge.”

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Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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