Data science and digital coding could soon be the new English – Mint

In a news cycle dominated by covid and the Afghanistan tragedy, most of us would have missed a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), The Future of Jobs (bit.ly/2UsgjvU). There are profound implications to consider. In my work in technology in general and artificial intelligence (AI) in particular, the two questions asked most often are: Will AI and robots become our masters and will AI and technology take over our jobs? Let us leave the first question for another day. The WEF report addresses the second one in detail.

One obvious difference in this report, as opposed to earlier ones, is that the impact of technology on jobs is now layered with the impact of another big phenomenon: the covid pandemic. Many of us dismiss the pandemic as a one-off occurrence that will not have a lasting impact. I disagree. Covid is perhaps the beginning of a series of mega-disruptions. Many of us think of the pandemic as a Black Swan event, what Nassim Nicholas Taleb described as both disruptive and unpredictable. However, Taleb himself refuses to characterize this pandemic as a Black Swanaccording to him, though very disruptive, it was highly predictable. While the pandemic might not be a Black Swan event, the ensuing lockdowns certainly were. They disrupted everything, including work. This pandemic many go away in a few years, an eye-blink in the history of the planet, but there will be other cataclysmic events that will cause unanticipated disruptionsglobal warming-related natural calamities, for example, or wars.

Thus, says the WEF, automation, in tandem with the covid-19 recession, is creating a double-disruption scenario for workers. 43% of businesses surveyed indicate that they are set to reduce their workforce due to technology integration, 41% plan to expand their use of contractors for task-specialized work, and 34% plan to expand their workforce due to technology integration. By 2025, the time spent on current tasks at work by humans and machines will be equal." The last sentence is a shocker. In 2020 humans did two-thirds of work and machines the rest; just five years hence, the human-machine split will be nearly equal. There are some alarming predictions: job creation is slowing while job destruction accelerates. A sigh of relief might escape you when you read that 85 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 97 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms." So, humans still have an edge, albeit a narrow one. But the pace of job destruction is more than that of creation. So we will see more jobs lost before new jobs appear.

The other key phrase here is the division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms". While covid and other factors are impacting jobs, the greatest impact is that of technology. The pace of technology adoption is expected to remain unabated and may accelerate in some areas," the report declares. The adoption of cloud computing, big data and e-commerce remain high priorities for business leaders..."

The covid paradox, where the pandemic slowed down the world, but accelerated change" has sprayed jet fuel on this, and the future of work is no longer imminent but has arrived. If this is so, then what are the jobs of the futureor, rather, of the present? Let me invoke Kai Fu Lee, the acclaimed AI practitioner. His famous matrix has optimization-to-strategy on one axis, and no-compassion-to-full compassion on another. High optimization and low compassion jobs (like telesales, customer support and dish-washing) will be the first to go. High compassion roles like those of CEOs, M&A experts and teachers will be last. The jobs which will always be there for humans will require communication skills, empathy, compassion, trust, creativity and reasoning. Lee has created a cheat sheet of 10 jobs in his book, including AI-related research and engineering, psychiatry and medical care and teaching. The WEF has also created a version of this cheat sheet, detailed for most major economies. In the global list, technology jobs dominatedata scientists, AI and machine learning specialists and digital transformation experts. Data entry, administrative, door-to-door sales and many other jobs vanish.

As technology muscles into our lives, jobs that enable humans to manage it will gain dominance. In India, for generations, knowledge of English was the passport for the best jobs. Soon, data science and digital coding could become the new English.

Jaspreet Bindra is the author of The Tech Whisperer, and founder of Digital Matters

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Data science and digital coding could soon be the new English - Mint

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