By Suman Sasmal

A hundred years ago, World War I came to an end with a promise to create the League of Nations, in the neutral base of Geneva to restore and promote peace in the world. No to wars, was the common chorus. So, the war stopped and peace was initiated.

Davos 2018 has come and gone. The worry is, there wasn’t as much a concern about digital disruptions looming on business and machines taking over humanity. Instead, the rhetoric was more around the fundamentals and fractures that are polarising the world. The political, social and economic systems that countries would embrace today and follow. We heard Jack Ma say “when trade stops, war starts”. We heard Prime Minister Modi say, “any form of Insular thinking and actions that worked against globalization could not be considered less dangerous than climate change or terrorism”. Similar voices came from chieftains – Merkel, Trudeau and Macron. All of these were a counter to the echoes coming from the pulse of populism catching up in different parts of the world. The protagonists argued that they needed to make tweaks to the existing model to prevent extreme anomalies and allow for amendments rather than a complete rejection. After all, Davos has stood for capitalist aspirations and globalization. And walking backwards would be akin to initiating wars (trade) in modern age and may not be the grandest of ideas one hundred years after!

At the core of it, there is just one problem. Jobs. Jobs. And more jobs. There are several others. But this is one issue that’s keeping the world leaders awake! As simple as it may sound, the headwinds are no less powerful than the waves of tsunami. The rapid pace of job dislocations, shortened shelf life of skills, mismatch of skills & jobs and associated wages, demand of skills in the extremes – high & low, falling wage productivity and employment elasticity are some of the key concerns. At the same time, there are several contrarian views pointing to a possible grand era like never before.

AI will kill jobs of the past, but will create jobs of the future. And many of them are not visible today. Peter Sondergaard, head of Gartner Research, has predicted that AI will kill 1.8M jobs by 2020 but will create 2.3 m new jobs. Capgemini research in 2017 suggests that 83% of companies using AI said that the technology has led to job creation in their organization, 75% of firms that have implemented AI said that it contributed to a 10% increase in sales, 63% of companies that implemented AI reported no job destruction due to the technology. Sundar Pichai is pitching for an AI-first world and AI safety. AI is like fire. It’s immensely useful for humanity, provided we follow safety norms. Peter Diamandis of Singularity University is advocating for an abundant future, where things will improve going forward, not incrementally but exponentially!! Over the last century, costs of several things have improved by 10x (food) to 100x (transportation) and these possibilities will only grow. And we don’t have to wait for decades, since anything having a digital footprint, will ride on Moore’s law and improve its price-performance every 12-18 months. That’s the future we live in today. Be it energy, water or longevity – we expect to see dramatic multi-fold benefits in the next few years.

While all this sounds extremely promising, the real test will be in the way we deal with AI. One of the ways would be to leverage human potential, which has always reigned supreme. AI is not just artificial intelligence but stands for an augmented individual. Machines had powered human muscles in the previous industrial revolutions and now it will power human minds. Possibilities have started unfolding already.

The questions facing us are: How do we get ready? How do we win over the Luddites? How do make an assessment of their fitment? How do we make them employable? How do we get them on a continuous learning platform? How do we make them learn to work with digital labour? How do we get them to think beyond a job – a better life?

And importantly – How do we spot talents where a job definition is not very straight forward? Even if the requirements are clear, the measurements are all fuzzy. Ability to find a problem, ability to ask questions, attitude to explore and navigate ambiguities, attitude to sense and anticipate, connecting with end points and client empathy, service orientation, drawing connections and connecting dots are some of the growing list of soft requirements. Business is looking beyond STEM. It’s looking beyond the conventions or the usual industry walls. The best protein folding algorithm (helpful in medical research) came from an executive assistant of a rehab centre in Manchester, England and not from MIT research labs or the labs of a pharma company. No certification or academic credentials will help find such individuals. What will help is usage of AI to uncover patterns of data from a variety of sources to bring out a contextual meaning around the abilities of an individual and presenting before hiring managers the best-fit candidates. The mantra is Use AI to deal with AI.

Sounds utopian? Not at all. There are solutions today using contextual intelligence to help do exactly what is suggested above. While it is a huge benefit for the corporations seeking to hire folks, this is hugely empowering for the individual as well. The gig economy will be a great connector of such precision skills, helping match her to get a job. The resume will become a base formality, the larger empowerment of the individual will be worked upon by the machines! Is this good enough to make friend with a machine? Is the augmented individual nodding her head in agreement?

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