Humans Versus Artificial Intelligence: How Can We Adapt to Keep our Jobs Safe?

By Hannah Benson

Artificial intelligence is at large in our developing world, be it in the form of digital networks, computers and other technology, and the unfortunate reality of the situation is that it is grabbing jobs away from its human competition.

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Janna Anderson, professor and director of Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center.

This threat has been on the rise for quite some time now. Global consultancy McKinsey predicts that the adaptation of automation technologies currently at large could impact 50 percent of the world economy, which translates to 1.2 billion workers.

The question is raised whether people should continue at their jobs and hope that the issue subsides, trusting that humans will always dominate over technology, or if people should get on board and start adapting in order to beat the competition.

Renowned professor at Elon University and co-author of the report “The Future of Job Skills and Job Training,” Janna Anderson, explains that people do need to learn how to adapt and add to their skill sets in order to trump the competition.

Anderson speaks more to the issue here.

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Graphic by Hannah Benson.

“The big findings [of her work],” says Anderson, “were that people do believe that we do need to train to race with the robots.”

“We need to learn to work with artificial intelligence and other tools in this digital age,” she adds.

As researchers agreed that it was necessary for people to adopt a list of skills to get on the same playing field as these digital competitors, a compilation of skills, capabilities and attributes arise as noteworthy. Many of these are as follows: adaptability, resilience, compassion, empathy, deliberation, judgement and discernment, conflict resolution and the capacity to mobilize, motivate and innovate.

Elon professor Kelly Furnas, when asked about the issue at hand, said, “Artificial intelligence is really good at understanding and acting based upon high-volume, repetitive tasks. A teacher might grade 2,000 essays over a course of a career, but a computer can grade 2,000 essays in a matter of seconds. This is why we now see computers grading even the essay portions of standardized tests. But computers rely on existing data to learn. In unique, novel situations, human minds will always be better, because we have the ability to reason and create connections even when none exist.”

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Jack Hamilton, Elon sophomore, gets worried about the competition.

When the subject was brought to the table, many Elon University students had feedback to give concerning the issue at hand, both positive and negative.

Elon sophomore Jack Hamilton responded, “I always hear about artificial intelligence and how it’s going to replace the job I have someday, but I guess I just thought that was my parents being paranoid or trying to scare me. The more information I hear about it, the more I feel like I should be getting worried, in fact, I might start doing more research on that now.”

Elon sophomore Margaret Gunson, someone who considers herself ‘technologically challenged,’ had this to say about the topic:

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Gunson is worried about the imminent takeover.

“I already feel inferior to computers everyday, and now you’re telling me they’re going to be taking my job down the line? That worries me, but at the same time I feel like there are certain jobs that can’t be touched by this issue, like tour guides, waitresses and anything like that. I’d like to have someone try and tell me a robot could replace a job that is centered on human hospitality.

Though Gunson remains unconvinced, Anderson, after copious research, attests that all jobs are in jeopardy.

“Everybody needs to be a jack of all trades,” she says. “You need to understand a wide variety of things and be curious and excited about lifelong learning [in order to meet success].”

Elon student and education major, Emily Ford, spoke to how she feels the entire situation is going to skew how people are raised to prepare for the work force.

“Now that people know their jobs are at risk, they’re going to shoot to develop the skills

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Ford worries that people will adopt the skills at the cost of others.

that will protect them from losing their job, rather than the kinds of skills people were encouraged to adopt 30 years ago when there wasn’t much competition at hand,” Ford says, “and this worries me. I mean, the kinds of skills aren’t negative in any way, but I dislike the idea that you’re learning them to ward off robots from taking your spot.”

“I never think too much about the issue,” says Alec Steffenberg, Elon sophomore. “People publish studies and write books, but I frankly think that it’s all a ruse. Of course, I’m aware of artificial intelligence, but I think that, if it should be a problem, I have enough skills in my repertoire to challenge it.

But perhaps he should be worried, as over 1,400 technologists, scholars and futurists by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center found that

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Steffenberg, a nay-sayer on the cause.

education and jobs-training ecosystems will be altered in the next 10 years. This will be done to exploit new virtual and augmented reality tools and artificial intelligence.

Everyone else, so it seems, will just have to get on board or accept that their position is in danger.

“Tap into the world’s knowledge and expand yourself,” says Anderson, “develop skills and you could be successful.”

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