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Will an Algorithm Replace Me?

By: Nancy Ordman

Greg Adamson, a University of Melbourne electrical and computer engineering faculty member, claims that 2025-2035 will be the critical period for the demise of traditional work. He goes on to propose that, “even the best scholars in the field put artificially-happy messages at the end of their books and articles.”

One of Adamson’s Melbourne colleagues agrees that work is changing and that some jobs will disappear, but he also offers a more hopeful future. Josh Healy, of Melbourne’s Centre for Workplace Leadership, believes that that future jobs will put good use to skills that only human possess.

“Since the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago, technological advances have always led to job destruction, but more new jobs have always been created. At this stage, there is no clear evidence this will be any different to what has gone before. We aren’t eliminating work, unemployment rates aren’t blowing out, work isn’t disappearing,” says Dr. Healy, a labor and workplace relations academic.

Jobs requiring non-routine cognitive work — work that algorithms cannot handle – will replace the ones that are repetitive and routine. For example, he points out that the number of jobs in child care and elder care is growing, along with work in healthcare and professional and scientific services. Humans will focus on work that requires them to exercise discretion, judgement and creativity.

The skills necessary to thrive in this coming job market include critical thinking and creativity. Research on entry-level job postings conducted in Australia between 2012 and 2015 uncovered a whopping 158 percent increase in demand for critical thinking and a 65 percent increase in creativity. But the employee of the future must also bring excellent communications skills to work.

Another Melbourne researcher, Lesley Farrell, characterizes the package of non-routine skills as highly dependent on language.

“The smart factories and workspaces that are emerging rely on automation and artificial intelligence, and the human tasks are focused on creating new knowledge, problem solving and working collaboratively,” says Farrell, dean of the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education.

Honing skills that a machine cannot replace and remaining curious and open to changes in the environment will be keys to finding and maintaining a satisfying career, both now and into the future.