I end my keynote talk about artificial intelligence with the following:
In the future, there will be two kinds of jobs. Either we will manage the machines or the machines will manage us.
At first, this statement seems somewhat bleak.
“A machine managing me? Who wants to report to a machine?”
We conjure up dystopian mental images of what that future might be like, from popular movie franchises like Blade Runner and Terminator.
The reality is, we’re already there in some ways. I was at the grocery store the other day and saw an employee towing around a cleaning cart with a scanner literally chained to it. The employee had to scan a barcode discreetly placed at the top of each aisle as they went by, cleaning up dirt and debris in the aisle and re-ordering shelves.
Why? This tracks where the employee is in the store, how much they’ve done, and how long it takes them between aisles. While it may not supervise the individual aisle cleanups, it sets baselines and parameters for performance, all of which are managed by a machine. Humans are likely not looking at individual scan points but overall performance, so in essence a machine is already managing the human.
Now, consider what other machines manage us. Our social networks and our smartphones manage us; they manage our attention, our interest, even our emotions. Facebook is (ironically, given its name) a faceless entity to most of us, a continuous stream of news and commentary designed to manipulate our emotions – and we’re managed by it every day. Our phones manage us, from telling us where we’re supposed to be to who’s reaching out to us. Our phones even tell us where to go; most people under 40 today struggle to read an atlas or map, as we’er so used to the navigational cues of GPS software.
It is a small stretch of the imagination to see how more and more of our work will be managed by machines – and why that might not be so bad. Consider how automated assistants like Siri interact with children with autism and recognize how such management might be extended to other emotional and behavioral issues.
In some ways, being managed by machines might be an improvement. Machines – properly trained and tested – could overcome many of the biases we mere humans suffer from. Tested and certified free of bias, machines may make better hiring decisions and be blind to skin color, appearance, sexual orientation, or religion. Would we ever remove humans from management entirely? That’s highly unlikely. Would we ever make machines a significant part of how we’re managed? Yes.
However, for our career growth and prospects, the real opportunity is on the other side – managing the machines. Learn as much as you can about machine learning and AI, because the early adopters now will be the leaders tomorrow who decide how the machines will manage everyone else.
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Also published on Medium.