Do You Speak Tech? The Disassembly of the Old World of Jobs

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March 4, 2024

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Anastassia Lauterbach

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In the last week of February 2024, I interviewed two extraordinary leaders for my LinkedIn Leading Through Disruption Newsletter. Jeff Burnstein is President of the Association for Advancing Automation, the largest institution uniting over 1280 robotic companies and Walter Werzowa is the Composer behind the Beethoven X AI Symphony. Two very different people talked about our future with Robotics and AI technologies. As a mother, a founder, and a non-executive director, I wonder whether we are ready for this world.

Life-changing technologies are being developed and are changing the way we work. Whenever something new happens, a tsunami of fretting is upon us. ChatGPT is expected to remove paralegals and even a chunk of layers, doctors, writers in Hollywood, and journalists of leading newspapers. Jokes or panic aside, we must address three serious issues regarding angst about losing jobs and succumbing to employment along machines.

First, we don’t have too many technologies, but we have too few. A report from Goldman Sachs from April 2023 concluded that AI can help return productivity growth rate to the days of the mid-20th century – and this is badly needed to maintain the economic system the Western world manoeuvred itself post Second World War. Demography plays against keeping economic prosperity balanced and up in Asia and Europe. In 2019, China suffered the most significant decline in its birth rate and is becoming the world’s fastest-ageing society. Japan is already the planet’s oldest demography. Europeans passed the point of demographic no return before the year 2000. Belgium, Italy, Austria, and Germany will age into mass retirement in the first half of this decade. We aren’t just running out of children to keep productivity up; we are running out of adults.

The second issue is that we must redefine how we learn and address the widening generational and cultural gap of technology illiteracy. Unless your name is Putin or Kim Jong-Un, you want a prosperous and peaceful 21st century. In that case, you must understand how to prepare for the world of new jobs dominated by the rise of collaboration between humans and machines.

A recent study co-authored by MIT economist David Autor found that approximately 60 percent of jobs in 2018 were in occupations that didn’t exist in 1940. Structural shifts have always been part of the history of employment. Most of the global population worked in farming around 1800. In 1950 it was about 20%, and today, it is 1.5%. Human history is an exciting teacher, demonstrating how human capital gets applied to solve (and, unfortunately, create) new problems. Current trends are clear. We will live and work with AI.

Finally, while AI accelerates transitions across all industries and job clusters, humanity struggles with an unprecedented mental health crisis. Technologies aren’t the only culprit. COVID pandemics and geopolitical tension contribute to the deteriorating rates of anxiety and major depressive disorders. I am not a labour market economist or a technology historian to see through all the root causes of the mental health pandemic. Maybe things move too fast for people. Maybe specific jobs are being wiped out quicker than new jobs are being created. Obviously, there isn’t a systematic effort to address people’s fears and doubts. Apparently, those with the gift to write and inform don’t apply essential intellectual honesty to focus on creating transparency and highlighting priorities in the public discourse.

I don’t expect policymakers and governments to solve the three issues. The good news is that where top-down solutions can’t be expected, individual corporate, entrepreneurial, and community leadership can work wonders. Modern communication and AI technologies can enable the sharing of best practices.

We must start by broadly addressing technology literacy, beginning early. For my part, I am committed to spending the next decade working on Romy and Roby, a book series and content platform to educate children and their clever parents about AI and Robotics through entertaining stories.

Every employer, community administrator, or national government can partner with organizations such as Khan Academy, Udacity, or Coursera to create tailored content for its constituency. Universities can top up their programs with practical courses delivered by technology specialists. There are great success stories to share and celebrate.

  • Munich Re did an excellent job of educating the organization about such a broadly sweeping technology as AI so that anyone in the company could benefit from understanding how to incorporate AI into their careers. I learned about their efforts at a conference organized by Dataiku, a company from France that provides a platform for systemizing the use of data across industries and use cases.
  • The Egyptian Government wanted to mitigate the foreign currency crisis and asked Udacity for help. The company started training people in technical skills to enable them with opportunities to freelance. As a result, 150,000 people in Egypt became technology savvy. A portion of those people went into freelancing. Udacity trained them on how to access the freelancing market. The effort brought back into the country annualized about $200 million of foreign currency. Such programs are the best equalizer, as they can shift the fabric of society without implying that people move from their communities.
  • Google has graduated over half a million people from their courses that include programs around cybersecurity data analytics, UX, design, and more. The University of Texas partnered with the tech giant to provide students with Google career certificates. Already, 2,5 thousand students went through the programs.

When discussing technology fluency, I don’t expect everyone to become a Python programmer. With new generative AI tools evolving (just watch what is offered on GitHub in terms of copilots), we can actively shape the future of our jobs. This shaping won’t come automatically. Walter Werzowa and his team spent two years curating the data set and teaching the generative AI about Beethoven. They had stunning musical knowledge to make thoughtful, creative choices that brought us the Beethoven Xth Symphony. Like every other societal or industrial field, domain knowledge is paramount if we want to thrive with AI. Are educational systems in Europe and North America capable of providing the domain knowledge that people might extend by becoming fluent in data and AI?

Unfortunately, I am not quite sure.

In 2020, I started teaching AI and cybersecurity in Potsdam and Innsbruck. The limited assistance for professors opened my eyes to the daily struggles of the least self-serving group of people – German and Austrian university teachers. My adventure in education wasn’t my primary source of income. My family and I couldn’t have survived on a 40 EUR hourly wage only provided when I faced a class. Necessary activities such as correcting papers, mentoring students, or preparing for lectures weren’t compensated. Poor pay for educators is one of the reasons why top professors leave German and Austrian schools and universities and go to the US or the Middle East. There are a few islands of excellence on the old continent if we look at Finland or Switzerland. Still, the majority of teachers struggle, which is mirrored in students’ preparedness for the future.

Educational systems in Europe aren’t the only ones to fix. Anand Sanwal, Founder of CB Insights, suggests shutting down 50% of mid-tier universities in the US as they provide no value to students. How does he know? He looks at data on what students achieved ten years after enrolment. 22% of the students make under 15 USD minimum wage, and 29% make between 5 and 10 thousand USD above this figure. This is a scandal. University degrees should unleash the economic mobility of people, give them tools for perpetual self-education to keep their skills current, and provide a network for further professional opportunities.

Not everyone can go to an Ivy League college, of course. This means that parents and communities can no longer hope that the next generation will achieve excellence and a ticket into a successful professional life through a college degree. I can only hope that in democratic societies, voters recognize the approaching paradigm shift and demand that their politicians provide a vision and a workable plan for education and skill-upgrading opportunities while combining local resources and online offerings. Knowledge of today’s pressing needs for formation in AI and data won’t hurt anyone running for office.

In 2023, demand for data analytic skills grew 15 times faster than the average demand for other skills. The number of searches for how to become a data analyst was the number one search of any how to become in the world. Besides, cyberattacks grew 38% last year. There is a gap between the number of cybersecurity jobs and the number of people already trained to be cybersecurity analysts. There are 650,000 open jobs in cybersecurity in the US and 3.5 million worldwide. It seems like an open playfield for people to come in and learn new skills. Young people sense the opportunity and apply for new majors in cybersecurity. I have just hired my first intern, and she is studying cybersecurity as a major in the Netherlands with a minor in AI.

Udacity saw a 33% increase in AI-related courses in 2023 and the same rise in foundational courses like Python programming. There are several unresolved problems, e.g., the use of copyrights and attribution of authorship in the modern world. Still, the trend is unmistakable.

Overall, the intensity of education and demand for perpetual learning will increase. 100 to 150 hours of online content imply that people go through such courses in three to six months, depending on what happens at their workplaces and whether employers support continuing their education.

Mental health is an essential precondition for a successful future with technology. I am thrilled that large employers started noticing the topic. I joined Deepak Chopra, the UN, and the WEF initiative that should define the global mental health policy and operating plan. As an advisor to the Wellbeing at Work, I am encouraged to witness a vivid exchange of best practices among the CHROs across the globe. I am honoured to serve alongside top experts such as Jacqui Brassey, McKinsey Health Institute Co-Lead and author of two monumental and practical books “Deliberate Calm” and “Authentic Confidence.”

I am looking for a broad and honest discussion about the future of jobs and the role of education and technology literacy. Please leave your comment on my Patreon or write at anastassia@romyandroby.ai.

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Book 1

Romy & Roby And the Secrets Of Sleep.

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