Overcoming Anxiety of the Future of Work

Will I be replaced by Artificial Intelligence? What will I do if my line of work becomes automated? How can I possibly learn new skills? All of these questions, and much more accumulate when pondering the Future of Work. Honestly, overcoming the anxiety associated with the mysterious Future of Work may be the hardest obstacle.

With less than optimistic news floating around from the likes of The New York Times and Forbes and popular headlines such as “The Jobless Economy” and “Are Virtual Sweatshops the Future of Work”, it’s hard to feel confident that any job is secure.

So, instead of talking about the computers that can write their own code, robots that’ll take your order, and AI paralegals that can sift through thousands of cases instantaneously, I’d like to approach this conversation from an actionable standpoint. As in, what are actionable insights to ensure job security for the fast approaching Future of Work?

Liberal Arts for the Win

AI excels at technical tasks but struggles with the Bigger Picture.

As Mark Cuban points out, critical thinking skills learned through Liberal Arts studies are very important to have in the Future of Work. If he could go back to college, he’d exchange his Accounting degree for one in Philosophy.

For instance, English majors really understand how to form valuable opinions and argue those important points. Art Majors learn a great sense of visual taste, design skills, and an eye for aesthetic. Let’s not forget about the Philosophy majors that can tap into the wisdom of 3,000 years worth of great thinkers.

Generally, Liberal Arts degrees have carried a stigma of useless skills. In the task-oriented, business world, there was no room for creative conversations. But, that was yesterday. Today and tomorrow, intuition and creativity will rule the boardroom. The skills gained in Liberal Arts studies are exactly the skills that will take AI the longest to learn.  

There will always be limitations of technology. Right now, the Liberal Arts are a distinct advantage. However, as AI research continues, these creative skills may also be at risk.

That’s why it’s important to define your view of AI, so you can roll with the punches as AI progresses.

Your Mindset Matters to The Future of Work

Your view of the Future of Work stems from one of two mindsets:

Do you see the rise of AI as an ally or do you see it as an enemy – something that enhances your job, or competes for it?

The more favorable approach is realizing the potential of AI and using its skills to augment your capabilities – using its strengths as a strength of yours to excel further.

Phil Jackson approached coaching the Chicago Bulls in this way. He realized that Michael Jordan’s biggest strength wasn’t necessarily his skill, but that he was like honey to a bunch of bees. The other teams always heavily guarded him. Instead of creating plays that focused on getting MJ open, Phil designed plays that created MJ as a diversion. When teams keyed in on the swift style of MJ, he dished the ball to Pippen, Paxson, Kerr, and others. Six NBA championships later, using the strength of their star player as a diversion enhanced MJ’s play and the entire team.

On the flip side, I would advise against entering in a competition with AI. But, if you choose that mindset, then don’t focus on AI’s strengths because you’ll never beat them. Instead, pinpoint AI’s weaknesses and make those your strengths.

The entire genre of hip-hop was heavily influenced by this style of thinking. The RZA, of the Wu-Tang Clan, noticed the limitations of the musical technology present. At the time, beat-making machines could only record two bars at a time. This limitation gave birth to a form of production known as sampling, where producers used the beats and hooks in other popular music to create new beats (hence the name, sampling). In using this weakness of technology to his advantage, the RZA catapulted the Wu-Tang Clan to the top of the charts and influenced a slew of future hip-hop producers such as Kanye West and The Alchemist.

The limitations of technology can become artistic tools themselves, as the RZA showcased. Which spurs the question of creativity and AI.

Is creativity the only safe profession?

Many people believe that a computer can’t be creative, that it can’t have an original thought. But, there are early warning signs that this isn’t true. AI is proving to us that it can write pretty well, and may have a future in picking up where Shakespeare left off. Google’s AI art project, Deep Dream, is churning out inspirational (and freaky) art constantly.

So, will AI master the creative output?

Maybe. Even if it does, there’s nothing to worry about because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There will always be a connection between humans and the art they make.

Not to mention, creativity is greatest during times of competition. Commonly, creative communities foster a healthy competitive challenge of one-upping each other. The Renaissance was so profound because there were hundreds of thousands of people sitting around with nothing to do but be more creative than the next guy. People point to the best period in hip-hop when Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur pitted the West Coast against the East Coast, and the styles became distinct.

Instead of AI replacing creative professions, they will enhance them. Man and machine will work together to ask each other questions that have never been asked before. Creative projects will be heavily influenced by the technology that augments the creative process. Similar to how Andy Warhol had a team of creatives he worked with daily, creatives of the future will have teams of AI to work alongside, bolstering each other’s expression.

In fact, many people even believe the Future of Work isn’t going to be work, but rather a Second Renaissance. The skilled writer, artist, and musician will further use technology as inspiration and creative tools to best express themselves.

So, don’t fret that there will never be any more jobs, ever, in the Future of Work. It’s just a transitional period. Perhaps the biggest takeaway you can have in preparation for the Future of Work is the importance of overcoming the anxiety of it.

Overcoming Anxiety is the Key

Anxiety is a normal reaction. It means that you care about something important. Yet, overcoming anxiety is harder than taking a few deep breaths (even though that will help).

However, you must reframe your mindset towards one of preparation to overcome anxiety.

In the wise words of the late, great Bruce Lee, “Don’t be forecasting evil unless it is what you can guard against. Anxiety is good for nothing if we can’t turn it into a defense.”

Overcoming anxiety is rooted in preparation. Finding areas of anxiety means you’ve found a weakness. Overcoming anxiety of a strength is never a problem since you have confidence in your abilities.

Therefore, overcoming the anxiety of a weakness means that you must learn about the weakness, study those that have achieved greatness in that area of your weakness, and begin building your defenses there.

Unless redirected to improve and prepare yourself, anxiety is merely mental baggage – weighing your mind down during daily travel.

For the reason that technology and the future can be so overwhelming, I created Quick Theories – a weekly newsletter exploring modern technology and its possible effects on your future – to help you understand and adopt technology in your own creative way.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to receive one weekly, sign-up here: quicktheories.com

10 Comments

  • Charles Sharoubim
    4 months ago

    With the direction that the educational system Is going in terms of specialization and focus on STEM as opposed to liberal arts. One must identify their strengths that relate to human behavior and the human experience and harness AI to bolster their strengths or conversely exploit AI’s fallibilities.

  • Tomas Dejesus
    4 months ago

    Interesting subject. You are very smart.

  • Dan
    4 months ago

    Hi Terry!

    The topic is good and I find useful some of the links too. However, as I am passionate too about the future of technology and how that will impact our lives (including work), my feedback is that you haven’t provided too many alternatives. The last paragraph (Overcome your Anxiety!) is very good but that’s pretty much it. I’ll use the most discussed/ popular example. Say that I was a truck driver. Unlike Bruce Lee saying, I know what the evil is. It is waiting just around the corner to take my job (most people say in less than 10 years, maybe 5). The question is: how do I guard against it? I am so anxious because I have two kids and no university studies. Should I start learning to code? Oh my, by the time I learn the basics the technology will be even further away from me. At the other end of the spectrum is the C-suite. At least 30% of their activities will be automated. Then, why would a company need a CEO, COO and CFO when it could easily have 3 in one? This will result in unemployment for both the white and the blue collars.

    These are questions to answer and among the hundreds of blogs and articles that I have read I haven’t seen anything optimistic about it. Hence there are plenty of reasons to be anxious.

    • Archit
      4 months ago

      I totally agree with you. A technological innovation should only go through if all the people possibly affected by it are adequately compensated.

      • Not Dan or Archit
        4 months ago

        Economic theory (Yes I know it is theory, but a lot of times it holds true) says that when activities get automated, or there are tech advances, yes jobs may be lost…but the new automation forces us to adapt and become productive in another way. That could mean learning code but it also could open up other opportunities to continue to grow and find a different more advanced and higher paying job. I understand that some are in a position where it is incredibly hard to do that, and we have to do everything we can to uplift all people, but we cannot stay stagnant and not become more efficient and productive.

    • Ryan
      4 months ago

      Dan, completely agree with you that this article didn’t necessarily point us toward a definite direction, but it does give us some ideas.

      To stay in the theme with Bruce Lee advice, “A teacher is never a giver of Truth; he is a guide, a pointer to the truth that the student must discover for himself.”

      As Not Dan or Archit (true name anonymous) said, not everyone is in the position to spend time finding their truth. So, that’s why Qu told us to eliminate the anxiety that clouds our judgement. It’s just taking up space in consciousness that could be used toward dreaming and thinking about what your defense will be.

      Qu points us toward the truth, because honestly, nobody knows for sure what the job landscape will look like in five years. Wouldn’t it be a shame if he were to tell everyone to go learn how to weave baskets underwater, only to come to the realization in five years that there’s no market for it?!

      I love this advice and the philosophical approach to guiding one’s life. Peace

  • Not Dan
    4 months ago

    Nice read

  • 4 months ago

    I find life amazing and amusing because we are all constantly co-creating: These articles and the subsequent comments. The point I am making is that we are confronted with many challenges in our daily lives. Through these happenings we express our concerns and some of us are prone to become reactionary. Herein lies the solution. Creativity is our reason to be here and in expressing our reactions we create. The question is what do you wish to create? If we are not optimistic and forward looking then we are not living up to be the mighty warriors that we were born to be.

  • 4 months ago

    QT,
    My worry is not whether “Al” can be “creative”, but whether AI will know when an idea is not such a good idea. I can see Ai coming up with some pretty weird ideas not considered before, and some ideas that would be absolutely horrible if implemented.. My 50 or so years of learning how the brain works has taught me that human creativity is a combination of coming up with the idea that hasn’t been though of before, courage to suggest implementing it (equally as difficult sometimes), whether the idea has cultural, emotional, aesthetic, and/or practical value, whether it can be implemented, whether there is a good reason to implement it, whether you will get tarred and feathered and carried out of town if you implement it, whether you should get “buy-in” from the target audience before you implement it (there is a time for all things), etc. It is the “buy-in” of the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex that humans use to do something creative. AI will need to have – most likely many – referee to keep the number of horrible ideas down to a number appropriate for the idea “quality”. Our brains still excel by several orders of magnitude in bringing together cogent input from many sources to reach a decision, and usually much faster than any computer. AI has a very long way to go to collect the data, identify what is cogent, and figure its rank order to optimize the importance of this data to arrive at a decision in a way that satisfies more than a few human-biased requirements. Actually, it will take more than a few humans to build the ability to do these things into a machine, humans that will have to learn what humans do when they are creative in code and hardware. By the time it is done, we will know where mistakes are most probable and how to prevent them in the biological computer of our brains. Now, that is being creative!

  • Chip
    4 months ago

    One of my customers built a multi-million dollar automated warehouse. It’s an AI phenomenon. Their are hundreds of anomalies going on 24/7. It’s bizarre watching driverless forklifts, which follow magnetic highways as they move product from one line to the next.

    Other than the power indicators on each piece of equipment, there are no lights in the warehouse. Unless you bring your own flashlight, it’s always dark.

    And everything constantly moves. Nothing is standing still.

    The owner built the warehouse because he has complete cost control. There are no people making mistakes. There are no people not showing up for work. There are no people suing the company for work comp issues.

    What amazed me most was the elemenation of all variables. The warehouse cost break-even point, hinges on routine.

    The same thing done a million times a day.

    The same thing, taking the same amount of time, costing the same amount of money, producing the same product, combined, allows the owner to cut consumer cost to a bar minimum.

    It’s all about money.

    All the creativity, all the programming, all the automation, and all the money spent accomplishing these objectives, promotes artificial intelligence, while eliminating aspects of human labor.

    My point is really simple. We are anxious because we can’t compete with the perfection of automation.

    If you want to kill anxiety, be the best at one thing. When you’re​ the best at one thing, you will never have to find a job. The jobs will always find you.

    AI will eventually require maintenance performed by human labor.

    You don’t have to be an Einstein.

    You do have to be a Michael Jordon.

    Qu wants our dialogue to include an action plan.

    Be the best at one thing.

    There you go Qu.

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