The robots are coming; it’s time to be more human

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Futurist and strategy consultant Graeme Codrington.
Futurist and strategy consultant Graeme Codrington.

As more and more jobs are lost to technology, the trick to surviving the next decade and into the future is not to try and compete with the machines but to be more human.

So said author, futurist and strategy consultant Graeme Codrington in his keynote address at the OpenText Digiruption Indaba in Sandton last week.

According to Codrington, it’s not just the low-skilled, repetitive jobs that are likely to be replaced in the not too distant future. Also under threat are professions often considered highly-skilled, such as medical doctors, lawyers, accountants, engineers, teachers and the like.

The Internet, artificial intelligence, cloud, mobile and all the other technological advancements developed since the mid-20th century should be considered as nothing more than the building blocks of the coming fourth industrial revolution.

“So far, we have been focusing on building the building blocks. When you start putting them together – in the healthcare system, in the education space, in the infrastructure space, in the smart city space – you will create deep, systemic change as you build a world that will be very different to what it is today,” he said.

Four years ago, Bill Gates said the next 15 years would bring more change than there had been in the past 50, and Codrington agreed. However, he added, no one could know exactly what that future would look like.

Although “robots” will be able to take on a lot, at present there are still certain things they cannot do.

For example, IBM’s Watson supercomputer is far better at diagnosing a person’s illness than the average general practitioner (99.2% accuracy versus 72%). “That might encourage most people to prefer having a computer diagnose their conditions so that they will receive the correct treatment faster. However, who would you rather inform you that your diagnosis is cancer – a machine or a person?” Codrington asked.

This indicated that in many instances, machines are more likely to take over certain tasks within jobs, rather than the job as a whole.

According to Codrington, research has indicated there are eight essential human skills people would require to succeed in the next decade and beyond.

Horizon scanning and “what-if” thinking: Having the ability to imagine a future that is not just an extension of the present; picturing the world differently and not just seeing the world as an extrapolation as “computers are very good at extrapolations but they are not good at building scenarios”, he said.

Adaptive intelligence and complex problem-solving: While computers are very good at dealing with complicated problems which require sifting through and analysing huge quantities of data, they are less adept at dealing with complexity. Artificial intelligence can deal with complicated problems, but adaptive intelligence is needed for complexity.

Creativity and intuition: The ability to think new thoughts that had not been thought before; knowing when to break the rules (and knowing you won’t get into trouble for doing so); having a hunch and working on it.

Personal intelligence: Also referred to as emotional intelligence. It’s about knowing ourselves, where our boundaries are emotionally and physically. It’s what is needed to avoid burnout.

Diversity intelligence: The ability to apply the same insights into one’s situation to others and realising that other people, including those who may share some of your physical characteristics, are not you – nor are they even like you. In addition, diversity intelligence means being able to recognise that learning from other “different” people can improve one’s own personal intelligence.

Curiosity and storytelling: Curiosity is the desire to know and the ability to ask insightful questions that deepen understanding. Storytelling is the flip-side of curiosity – it’s the ability to take information that needs to be shared and package it in a way that is not only informative, but inspiring.

Initiative and entrepreneurship: This does not mean that someone has to be able to go out and start a business. It’s about a mindset focused on getting the job done no matter what it takes; not clock-watching, and being able to see where a problem is and then trying to fix it.

Tech-savvy: This requires more than just knowing how to use a computer program or an app, but actually knowing the language of the computer. It does not mean that everyone has to become a programmer, but know enough about programming to know what machines can and cannot do, and now to engage with them.

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