In the era of A.I. and automation, what job skills do you need most?
As robots and automation take over jobs, there will still be some occupations where humans will be preferred, says theoretical physicist and best-selling author Michio Kaku.
Michio Kaku is a futurist, popularizer of science, and theoretical physicist, as well as a bestselling author and the host of two radio programs. He is the co-founder of string field theory (a branch of string theory), and continues Einstein’s search to unite the four fundamental forces of nature into one unified theory. He holds the Henry Semat Chair and Professorship in theoretical physics and a joint appointment at City College of New York and the Graduate Center of C.U.N.Y. He is also a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society.
Kaku launched his Big Think blog, "Dr. Kaku's Universe," in March 2010.
Michio Kaku: People often ask me the question, “In the era of AI what jobs and what skills will I need?”
Well, first of all let’s take a look at the first era of space exploration the 1960s.
There was a crash program back then to miniaturize the transistor. That’s why our astronauts like John Glenn, they’re short people. They were tiny people.
The Russian astronauts, they’re also very tiny because they have to fit inside the nose cone of a missile, and we scientists were given the mission to miniaturize transistors as far as possible.
Now, as a consequence of that, we have what is called the Internet age today. All the goodies you see in your living room, all the telecommunication wonders of the Internet were in part a consequence of this mass drive to miniaturize transistors, because we were in the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
Now, as we enter the second golden era there’s going to be yet another crash program to miniaturize computers even more.
This means transistors made out of molecules, quantum computers, a whole new era of computation.
So there could be yet another golden age of computer technology emerging because of the emphasis placed on going to Mars with the cheapest, lightest possible object, and this means even more computer power.
Then the other question is: “Well, what are the jobs that are going to be there in the future?”
Well, first of all I tell people that semiskilled work will be with us for many decades to come, including garbage men, sanitation workers, plumbers, policemen, gardeners, construction workers. You see, robots cannot pick up garbage. Robots cannot design a garden. Robots cannot solve a crime.
We forget that robots are very bad at pattern recognition! Robots cannot fix your toilet, and they probably won’t be able to for many decades to come. In fact the Pentagon even sponsored the DARPA Challenge to create a Fukushima robot. Their job was to take our skills of today and build a robot that could clean up Fukushima.
This means A, driving a car, B, getting out of the car, C, sweeping the floor, turning a valve and doing some simple maintenance work that a five-year-old kid could do. Well, the results are on the Internet. You can download them and they’re hilarious. You see many robots falling over with the inability to get up because they’re like an upside down turtle; they‘re simply stuck on the floor.
We have a long ways to go before we master pattern recognition at the level of a plumber, at the level of a gardener.
The job to avoid in the future, however, are the middleman jobs, for example, brokers and low-level tellers and accountants. For example, today when you go to a stockbroker you no longer buy stock. Now you may say to yourself, “That’s stupid, everybody knows when you go to a stockbroker you buy stock, I mean what else are you going to buy?” Well, no. You don’t buy stock when you go to a stockbroker. You can buy stock on your wristwatch so why bother to go to a stockbroker? Because you want something that stockbrokers provide that robots cannot. And that is intellectual capital. That means experience, know how, savvy, innovation, talent, leadership—none of which computers and robots can provide.
So the large explosion of jobs in the future will be jobs that robots cannot do, i.e. Jobs involving pattern recognition and jobs involving common sense, as well as middlemen jobs that involve intellectual capital, creativity—products of the mind. Those are the jobs which are still going to flourish in the future.
As Tony Blair of England likes to say, England derives more revenue today from rock ‘n’ roll than it does with the coal mining industry. And why is that? Because coal mining represents commodity capital. Commodity capital, yes we’ll have it for decades, centuries to come, but it falls in price every year.
Agriculture, for example: today you had breakfast that the king of England could not have had a hundred years ago. Think of what you had for breakfast: Delicacies from around the world, almost for free. That’s because agriculture being a commodity drops in price because of better containerization, mass production, shipping, better cultural methods and things like that.
So this means that jobs that are intellectual rather than are commodity related will flourish in the future.
As robots and automation take over jobs, there will still be some occupations where humans will be preferred. Theoretical physicist and best-selling author Michio Kaku weighs in on the kind of job skills you need to have to stay employed and relevant in the near future.
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