A quirky thing about intelligent machines, at least this side of “the singularity”: a human still needs to identify the problem to be solved. Plus, so far, humans must be heavily involved in order to define the problem.
There is little question that AI and other exponential technologies will eliminate some types of work. We make the most progress as a civilization when we automate operations:
“It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.” — Alfred North Whitehead
Leaders can bank on this: There is unlimited work available if you’re willing to work on hard problems. The AI/robotics future erodes the number of jobs paying a living wage for solving easy problems, and the purely complicated problems.
Complicated: We know all the parts, we know how they go together, there is a logical/rational solution, you can write a procedure. Most of the complicated problems in project management, logistics, manufacturing, finance, and marketing have already been solved – people get paid for excellent execution of solutions. Improved technology and automation erode this scenario, driving unit costs lower and lower.
Complex: We don’t know all the parts or how they interact, solutions are non-obvious or create more problems than we can accept, and behaviors of individuals and groups are a big factor. There is an especially difficult class called ‘Wicked Problems’ because they are extremely messy and interactive. Historically we have found few universal solutions to truly complex problems, so variations need to be solved every time they arise. It’s difficult to conceive of what to automate. You can’t write a rule-book that covers every situation with a perfect formula. Historically we rely on deep principles, timeless truths, and hard-won wisdom to guide us.
All solutions create new problems to solve. If there are problems there will be work. The proportions of wage-earning work shift over time due to automation. Choosing to work on hard problems requires courage and life-long learning. The value of problem-solving won’t be evenly distributed, and there will be exception cases, but this chart foretells the economic story:
Perhaps the linchpin complex problem of the future is consistent success in identifying and defining the problems which need solutions. Children can spot a problem, even propose solutions – but to define a problem in a constructive way that leads to solutions is the high skill needed.
Consider these ideas as you
- Promote skill-development in your team and organization
- Plan for the future business models
- Decide what are capabilities to retain and which to buy or partner to obtain
- Forecast new products and services for customers
- Help your children and grandchildren