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Charting Your Career Path in the Age of AI

McKinsey forecasts that, by 2030, up to 30 percent of hours currently worked across the US economy could be automated by generative AI. You are no doubt already well-aware of the impact that AI and automation is expected to have on work, but what does this mean for your own career plans?

There is already talk of a near-future without employment at all that will necessitate the need for a system of Universal Basic Income (UBI) to provide an income for human populations that may never work.  I absolutely believe that we are in the foothills of an exponential curve of growth, change and technological advancement.  It is inevitable that AI will fundamentally change business, economics, and society, including our own place in the labour market. It is important to prepare in so far as it is possible for an uncertain future.

Generative AI is revolutionising daily tasks. It's scheduling meetings, transcribing audio, and even translating languages with minimal human input. One striking example is OpenAI's Sora, a text-to-video model launched in February 2024. Sora's ability to create realistic scenes in seconds has significantly impacted investment in traditional film production. The research carried out by Nesta (£600m UK innovation foundation) when I was a trustee concluded that creatives were going to be safe from automation for longer.  Then generative AI came for visual creatives first.  You can turn a childish doodle into a photo-realistic image.  Every human now has the creative capability of a graphic designer or experienced photographer.  The latest coding language is English and the ‘learn to code’ advice for the next generation that was so popular just 24-months ago, is now clearly bad advice.

Generative AI is not just transforming manual tasks; it's also disrupting high-cost cognitive jobs. The next step? Physical labour, as AI becomes mobile and robots more affordable. This is just the beginning of a transformative journey.

Unless you plan to retire within the next 5-years, the trajectory of AI development warrants a proactive review of your current job role and how augmentation, reduced demand, or even redundancy, risk may emerge.

If you are starting out, what path is least likely to insect with complete automation of your chosen job, or most of the tasks you expect to perform in that job?  By objectively assessing AI’s advancement across industries, you can make informed choices to future-proof your career.

Phases of AI Automation

Understanding AI's Impact on Jobs: It's easier to grasp the shift towards an AI-dominated job market by dividing it into three key phases.

Phase 1: Human-First Workplaces: For most of industrial history, technology enhanced human productivity without widespread displacement.

From steam powered farm equipment to computers, tools and machines made humans more productive. Output created wealth and a working class followed by a middle class in developed economies. Demand was met with increased supply of goods and services. This period of human history, and especially for cognitive labour, has come to an end. Some careers will be human-first for the foreseeable future (5 – 10 years), but in the long-run no job will be solely human-first, unless that is what is being paid for (e.g. musicians or artists).

Phase 2: AI-Assisted Workplaces: We have entered the AI-assisted phase. The present phase of workplace evolution is one where humans are increasingly augmented, but still perform core job functions leaning on AI tools for support. 

AI increases business efficiency through data analysis, workflow automation, multi-tasking, and forecasting complexity beyond manual human capacity. Robotics will become more affordable and will migrate to every warehouse, and then homes for those who can afford it.  Just like autonomous cars, automation will require less and less human oversight overtime until fully autonomous systems are available and trusted.  Today, AI cannot take on complete jobs, but it can complete tasks from a job description and the number of tasks will increase. This phase will last for decades with some jobs disappearing within months and others requiring AI, and especially robotics to significantly evolve.

Phase 3: AI-First Workplaces: The end state where entire occupations become fully automated with human oversight being optional. 

Fully autonomous organisations will spawn into existence.  Any repetitive job with structured inputs and quantifiable results will be replaced by AI and robots. As both cognitive and physical labour is displaced it will become unethical for a human to work in any dangerous environment, such as a building site, and it may become illegal for a human to drive a car in populated areas. Few human jobs may remain depending on if Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) emerges, as expected, within coming decades to match, or exceed, human cognitive abilities. AGI will also rapidly improve the design of robotics resulting in permanent and exponential technological advancement. In this future AI designs AI and what you thought was impossible at breakfast has been solved by lunchtime.

Assessing Your Career’s Automation Risk

Given that AI will one day assume roles once considered to be sacredly human, it is worth analysing your career path sooner rather than later. I often hear people comment that AI can’t do this or that but remember it could do much only 18-months ago and it is the worst today that it will ever be.  Humans struggle to comprehend exponentially change with brains programmes in a linear world over hundreds of thousands of years. 

Framework to Evaluate Risk:

  • Structured vs. Unpredictable Work: Defined inputs and quantifiable outputs will be automated faster than ambiguous situations requiring assessments like critical thinking or gut calls based on years of experience with humans’ reactions.

  • Repetitive vs. Variable Tasks: Recurring work is codified into algorithms quicker than dynamic activities needing constant adaptation like relationship building or artistic performance or innovation.

  • Hard Data vs. Sensory Input: Fact-based analysis using statistics, language datasets and visual libraries is easier to automate than interpreting smells, textures and emotions.

Applying this framework will help you to gauge short and long-term susceptibility to AI incursion.

AI Agents: A Bridge to Automation

While automation looms as a threat to many roles, AI agents are currently enhancing human capabilities. They're taking over repetitive tasks like administration and customer service, paving the way for a more efficient workforce.

They can automate admin, the mundane, the repetitive, quality assurance and take on tasks that humans are poorly equipped to perform, such as analysing larger data sets and multi-tasking at scale. AI agents empower employees to focus cognitive capacity and human emotional intelligence on more meaningful, strategic work.

Over time, advancements in natural language processing, predictive algorithms and robotic manipulation will enable AI agents and robots to assume additional duties across more industries. But in the short-term, they promise to enhance workplace efficiency by managing standardised operations before progression to full self-sufficiency. The key will be continuously evaluating workflows to determine what tasks AI agents can realistically adopt versus those necessitating human discretion, at least temporarily. Talent, including yourself, should expect employers to engage AI in this AI-assisted era so that you can focus on the work that adds the most value.  In fact, employers that fail to augment their workforce will struggle to attract talent.

The advancement of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) might redefine your work environment, pushing for heightened productivity in AI-driven virtual spaces, potentially impacting human connections and why you entered careers where human interaction was important (e.g. healthcare).

Building Resilient Skills

Once high-risk parts of your role surface, you can focus on nurturing complementary skills that have resilience against automated labour market competition. Examples include:

  • Creative Fields: Despite advances in generative writing and art, uniquely human imagination and emotional intelligence endure and will eventually be sought and value at a premium.

  • Strategy & Planning: AI informs but still struggles driving vision, leadership through ambiguity, politics and unknowns the way humans navigate uncertainty.

  • Science & Medicine: Algorithms enhance diagnostics and drug discovery insights, but human specialists remain critical for patient care, emotional support and ethical considerations.

  • Skilled Trades: Dexterous, high-touch vocations like carpentry and plumbing resist automation given the fine motor skills and improvisation needed to manipulate diverse physical environments. We may realise that manual labour has been undervalued by capitalism as technology struggles to replicate it.

  • Entrepreneurship: Using the power of AI to start and grow a business with less need for expensive human overhead, especially if that business is linked to the roles and sectors above.

Investing in Yourself

Beyond adjusting hard skills, career insulation from AI also requires expanding your personal development. Learning will be a continuous requirement to stay ahead and learn new skills or understand how to apply new capabilities as they arise.

Options to consider:

  • Continuous learning: Both formally and informally, absorb new concepts to stay valuable as occupational needs shift.

  • Mental wellness: Equip yourself to adapt in periods of volatility and great economic and societal change through self-care practices like mindfulness.

  • Additional credentials: Pursue degrees and certification in human-centred skills that are less prone to automation.

  • IQ vs EQ: IQ will be a service, whereas understanding and developing your own emotional intelligence will have value.

The Future of Work and Your Career

Careers will be increasingly defined by mode of work rather than specific field or industry. Economics will inevitably compel business leaders to adopt automation wherever it is more productive and more profitable. It is not a case of whether AI will disrupt many career paths, but when.  Only the pace of advancement remains uncertain.

With vision, foresight and constant reskilling, this displacement can be harnessed for positive change where repetitive work vanishes to focus human potential on tackling society's greatest challenges unconstrained by laborious tasks. In the long-run (20-years), all bets are off as to the role of humans in the workplace.

Your goal should be to nurture an anti-fragile skill base and adaptive identity around continuous self-improvement to secure your prosperity in age of AI. This can also act as a guide for the career advice you give to your children.  We should accept that playing a constant game of cat and mouse to maintain labour-market relevance will be tiring and eventually, in many cases, futile. Self-investment should also be about finding what enhances your life and brings joy, purpose, and self-actualisation.  This may be the challenge for mankind generally as we find our place in an AI-first world. 

As is always the case in this AI-assisted era, the time to review your career plan, the risk of automation and prospects is always right now.

Thanks for reading.


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