Technology and the equal opportunity revolution

Technology - specifically, the latest round of innovations in AI and machine learning - is a white-hot topic, with everybody from truck drivers to radiologists wondering if they’ll be replaced by an algorithm.

And while there are very real concerns about how the adoption of these technologies will play out, rather than resist or reject them out of fear of the unknown, we must instead accept and harness the power of technology to address the concerns.

While we do face some legitimate challenges that will require some hard work to overcome, we are also in the midst of a technology-driven revolution that promises to offer billions across the globe access to unprecedented new opportunities - and it’s only by embracing technology that we can both overcome our own challenges and leverage these new opportunities into an overall net win for the world.

Yes, technology will disrupt some jobs - as it has forever - but it also holds the solutions to our future.

Fear of technology rendering human workers irrelevant has been a consistent theme for centuries, dating back to at least the Luddites of the Industrial Revolution, and in that sense it’s nothing new.

With that said, the current worries about automation are somewhat different in that they are "blind to the color of your collar," as author Jerry Kaplan puts it. For perhaps the first time, both blue and white collar workers are equally nervous about the future, with as many as half of workers wondering if their job will be automated out of existence - even in fields previously thought immune to automation like design or journalism.

While nobody knows exactly how this new wave automation will play out, the only thing that’s certain is some real level of disruption - and therefore it’s on all of us to plan accordingly.

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Education + creativity: the answer to future-proofing yourself and/or your business.

Robots for assembly lines. AI writing code for itself. Automation of problem diagnosis and repair across computers and manufacturing. These are all but certainties in our near term future. But, what retains its value in this paradigm - at least for the foreseeable future? Creativity. Technology won’t be able to create ingenuity, inspire unique visions of what the future could be, or look at old problems in completely new ways - in other words, technology won’t replace creativity any time soon.

The implications of this are similar for both individuals and organisations who want to stay relevant amidst change. In both cases, the key is leaning into the unique ways that humans can add value.

Automated marketing to cybercrime: the tech fuelled start-up dilemmas 

For individuals, it means that now more than ever it’s critical to focus on building creative skills (design thinking, innovation) and the soft skills that potentiate them (leadership, emotional intelligence, communication). As I’ve written about before, innovation is a social process - and those who can be champions for breakthrough ideas will be more valuable than ever as routine tasks become more automated.

For organisations, this means building the infrastructure to give your people these skills - and evolving the learning and development function into a robust, nimble organisation that’s viewed as one of the company’s most valued strategic assets. In a world in which new technology can radically transform an industry in just a few short years, the winning companies will be the ones who consistently stay ahead of those changes by giving their employees the tools to keep their skills and EQ (emotional intelligence) razor sharp... and working diligently to ensure that workers use them.

The bottom line is this: lifelong learning is now more imperative than ever for both individuals and organisations.

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Technology giveth... and it taketh away.

As is often the case, the root of both the problem and the solution are the same: technology. Just as technology represents a threat to some jobs, it’s also what will turn this from a challenge to an opportunity by catalysing a much-needed revolution in education. And, ironically, it’s technology at the core of the educational revolution that is here to save the day.

Here’s the thing: "traditional" education (physical classrooms and textbooks, four year colleges and the like) just wasn’t built for this. It’s great for what it is, but nearly everything about it was the product of a different era, a time long since past where things moved much more slowly. To be blunt, it’s simply impossible for any institution to give students a set of skills that will last a lifetime - and this means that the need for lifelong learning (focused on highly transferrable skills that won’t be easily adopted by a machine or computer) is an all-time high - and rising quickly.

Read: What impact are chatbots having on the way we work?

The good news is that the revolution is already underway and gathering steam everyday, with more and better options for skill-based education coming online at a breakneck pace, enabling anyone with an internet connection to get a world-class education and unlock their own potential as an employee, freelancer or both (as is becoming the new norm).

From MIT’s open courseware to the millions of bite-sized tutorials on YouTube to my own company CreativeLive, the opportunities have never been greater for those dedicated to educating themselves. But, we’ve got to keep our feet firmly on the gas pedal, because although we’ve made incredible progress toward overhauling education, there’s still much work left to be done.  

We’re just getting started, so it’s nowhere near time to pause for a victory lap.

Photography as Art | Lessons with Art Wolfe

An equal opportunity revolution?

Yes, automation and technology are changing the face of work in new ways, and it’s something we should all be thinking about - but I’m an eternal optimist and I believe that humanity will adapt (as it always has) and forge a path to a brighter future.

But we won’t do it if we forget to couple our optimism with focus and hard work. We’ve got to redouble our efforts to give the whole world access to the transformative educational technology that’s already changed the lives of millions. That’s one of the reasons I admire efforts by Google, Facebook and others to provide internet access across the globe. Certainly there is intrinsic motivation for each of those companies to grow its userbase, but it’s critical that we connect the world to provide more than just status updates and internet memes to the world. Education is an increasingly online activity today.  And, with education as a basic human right, we’ve must support the provisions of technology to enable it.

A closing message for those who - like the 10 million CreativeLive students - have experienced the benefits of online education revolution: for both practical and moral reasons, we’ve got to make sure we bring everybody along with us. A rising tide lifts all boats, and we’re all in this together. In times of change it’s more important than ever that we band together and make sure no one is left behind.

By leveraging the AI, technology, the machines - whatever you want to call the future of automation - we will certainly gain an advantage in our future experience on the planet… but we must simultaneously harness our own power - the power to first imagine, envision, and then create the future we want.  

And that’s not up to the machines - that’s up to us.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Image from gettyimages.

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