The one skill you need to survive the AI apocalypse

Himanshu Khanna, our Games Programme Director, gives his insights on how to survive in the ever-changing technological world.

We’ve all read those clickbait articles prophesying the loss of jobs Artificial Intelligence (AI) will bring, and how many of us may soon be out of our current jobs and replaced by digital humans. 

It has been predicted that AI will be the most significant change driver over the next two decades and you don’t have to look further than the top tech firms to realise there is a lot of truth to this. Google has pivoted from being mobile-first to AI-first. Microsoft has reorganised to bring AI into all of its products. Amazon has rebuilt itself around AI and your iPhone may soon have some AI in it, if it doesn't already.

The fear that robots will replace us is not new and has existed from as early as the 19th century when the Luddites destroyed weaving machinery as a form of protest. Yet most economists say these fears are baseless and exaggerated. As always, some jobs will become obsolete but new jobs will definitely be created - ones that didn’t exist previously.

As early as 2020, Gartner predicts AI will generate 2.3 million jobs, exceeding the 1.8 million to be wiped out. Also, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, technology adoption historically can and often does lead to short-term job loss. However it creates a multitude of new jobs in the long run; more than offsetting the number of jobs it destroys even as it raises labour productivity.

"The basic fact is that technology eliminates jobs, not work. It is the continuous obligation of economic policy to match increases in productive potential with increases in purchasing power and demand. Otherwise the potential created by technical progress runs to waste in idle capacity, unemployment, and deprivation." National Commission on Technology, Automation and Economic Progress, Technology and the American Economy, Volume 1

To survive and indeed thrive in an ever evolving, ever disrupted world, the most important skill one needs is to be 'adaptable'. It constantly ranks among the must-have skill recruiters and organisations look for and along with problem-solving and interpersonal skills, it forms the trifecta needed for a successful career according to World Economic Forum.

To be 'adaptable' is to be comfortable in uncertainty, to see opportunities where others would only see threats. It's what allows us to overcome diverse challenges and ultimately bring stability to our lives. Adaptability even directly impacts a leader’s ability to be effective. 

Adaptability isn’t a personality trait - it’s a mindset change and our ability to unlearn and relearn throughout our careers ultimately determines the heights of our success, and hence can be learned. 

Predicting the future is hard. Even though we may be able to identify some trends, it’s impossible to determine the exact path they’ll take. Irrespective of the number of skills in your toolbox, some of them will become obsolete and need replacing. Instead of overcrowding your skills toolbox and sticking with outdated paradigms ask yourself what can I unlearn today? 

I’ll leave you with a quote from my favourite futurist and philosopher, one who clearly saw how the fabric of our society would be changed by technology. 

"The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn." Alvin Toffler

If you enjoyed this then you can follow me on Twitter @himanshukhanna for much more frequent musings.