Gen Z approaches new concepts in a very contemporary way: when I’ve thrown a task at publishing interns, they simply asked Google – or Siri – how to execute it. A few page views later, a report would land on my desk: impressive, cleanly written and well researched. A little deeper probing would reveal the nub of the problem: little original input and a rather shallow understanding of the subject at hand.
It’s not that these new workforce recruits aren’t creative — a quick browse of their social media pages reveals reams of original thought. However, they’ll need to leverage that creativity at work if they are to function effectively in tomorrow’s offices. Cut-and-paste research tactics work may pull the wool over some eyes, but when robots can do these jobs faster and more efficiently, why do humans need to bother?
In its new cybernetic newsroom, Reuters already combines the strengths of machines and human journalists to create data-rich editorial that has a human impact, its executive director Reg Chua said at the newsrewired conference last week. When an AI tool can sift through 700 million daily tweets in real time, what added value does a human bring to the table?
Age of machines
It’s a scenario set to play out across labour markets. “The future for employees is not in repetitive work,” Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, CEO of Mashreq and one of the region’s thought leaders, said at the organisation’s 50th anniversary ceremony last year. The simple backroom jobs done by 80 per cent of bank staff will soon be entrusted to machines, he said.
This year’s Future of Jobs report, released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in September, offers up a big-picture view. As the fourth industrial revolution plays out against a geographic shift in value chains to newer markets, the accelerated adoption of technological advances such as ubiquitous high-speed internet, artificial intelligence, big-data analytics, robotics and cloud solutions are transforming the world of work. “[Through to 2022] one set of estimates indicates that 75 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 133 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms,” the report says.
So, by the time today’s freshmen graduate, their CVs will need to highlight various forms of technology competency as well as human skills such as originality, critical thinking, negotiation, emotional intelligence and social influence – qualities that have served humanity for millennia.
Those entering the world of work in the Middle East and elsewhere won’t be judged on their intelligence quotient, or emotional quotient or indeed their technology quotient, but a combination of all three: a sort of Tech-Flex Quotient.
New workers, new roles
What might those jobs look like? Tomorrow’s companies may announce vacancies for data analysts, AI and machine learning specialists, user experience and human-machine interaction designers, blockchain specialists, e-commerce and social media professionals, sales and marketing managers, and organisational development experts and innovation managers.
The relevance of many of those ideas are being discussed at the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh as you read this. Organised by the Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Foundation (Misk), which concerns itself with empowering the region’s youth to become active participants in the knowledge economy, the forum turns the spotlight on precisely this interface through themes such as the man-machine partnership, human adaptability and how human collaboration might be revamped.
Earlier this year, the illustrator Florian de Gesincourt interpreted several of these themes for Misk and the WEF, producing a series of hypothetical jobs for the year 2030. Among them was a Robotic Remote Surgeon, with a robot directed by a qualified human doctor operating on a woman in a village several miles away, or a Superstructure Printer, who might control the 3D printers constructing new skyscrapers.
As those workers will no doubt realise, robots function much better when you tell them what they need to do and let them come back with the results.