It’s true that specific skills are at risk of becoming outdated as technology develops. However, more than learning specific abilities, education is about learning how to learn—that is, how to update your skills throughout your career. Research shows that having the ability to do so is highly valuable at work.
Automation undermines the idea that a good education will secure a good middle-class job. As economist Richard Baldwin points out in his book The Globotics Upheaval (Oxford University Press, 2019), if you’ve invested a significant amount of money and time in a law degree—thinking it’s a skill set that will keep you permanently employable—seeing AI complete tasks more cheaply than a junior lawyer could is worrisome.
In reality, automation and augmentation coexist. For your future career, both will be relevant.
A recent poll found that more than half of people aged 18–24 are worried about AI and their careers. The fear that jobs might disappear or be replaced through automation is understandable. Recent research found that a quarter of tasks that humans currently do in the U.S. and Europe could be automated in the coming years.
Finally, remember that when people previously feared jobs would disappear and tasks would be replaced by machines, this wasn’t necessarily the case. For instance, introducing automated teller machines (ATMs) didn’t eliminate bank tellers. But it did change their tasks.
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Ever since the Industrial Revolution, people have feared that technology would take away their jobs. While some jobs and tasks have indeed been replaced by machines, others have emerged. However, the success of ChatGPT and other generative artificial intelligence (AI) now has many people wondering about the future of work—and whether their jobs are safe.
Critical thinking and analytical skills are going to be particularly central to how humans and machines can augment one another. When working with a machine, you need to be able to question the output that is produced. Humans are probably always going to be central to this—you might have a chatbot that automates parts of legal work, but a human will still be needed to make sense of it all.
I found a strong theme of concern in these books about technology enabling certain tasks to be automated, depriving many people of jobs. Specifically, the concern is that knowledge-based jobs—like those in accounting or law—that have long been regarded as the purview of well-educated professionals are now under threat of replacement by machines.
But there is another, more aspirational way to think about this. Some books stress the potential of humans collaborating with AI to augment each other’s skills. This could mean working with robots in factories, but it could also mean using an AI chatbot when practicing law. Rather than being replaced, lawyers would then be augmented by technology.
Published: Thursday, August 24, 2023 – 12:02