Your resume will probably look pretty quaint in five years. It’s not your fault. It’s just that your job and the responsibilities you hold now and have held in the past are rapidly becoming obsolete. Blame the machines.
Artificial intelligence, or AI, in the forms of software systems and computer-driven robotics is already taking on many American jobs, and will ultimately come after many more. In fact, the accounting and consulting firm PwC estimates that the machines will replace some 38 percent of U.S. jobs by 2030.
Another scary fact is, two years ago Google DeepMind developed an algorithm that allows machines to “learn” just as quickly as humans. AlphaGo is an AI computer program that plays the Chinese board game Go well enough to beat a professional player. Your job might be targeted soon if it isn’t already. But you can keep your career out of the cross-hairs.
Save Your Job Through “The Elon Musk Model”
Obviously AI won’t replace everyone. If 38 percent of jobs are predicted to be lost, that means 62 percent will remain under human control (at least for the near future). So what will save us from losing our career?
We can look toward the very forward-looking Elon Musk for answers. Musk is the South Africa-born inventor, innovator, entrepreneur and driving force behind PayPal, SpaceX, the Hyperloop and electric car pioneer Tesla, just to name a few creations of his fertile imagination.
By taking a closer look at the workforce behind just one of his companies, Tesla, we can see which jobs are likely to survive over the next several years — and which might not.
Tesla, Inc. is not a traditional automaker. The Tesla way is to get from concept to model quickly. To fail fast and to go where others haven’t gone before. Think of Tesla’s Musk as the Christopher Columbus of 21st century innovation.
Check out this job tier pyramid.
It gives us a way of organizing and describing the tiers seen in the employment picture today. All of the jobs we currently hold can fall into one of these three categories.
The Known Known
This is the base tier of the pyramid because it describes the largest number of American jobs today.
At Tesla, or any automaker for that matter, this worker category includes those in manufacturing and assembly. The process of making the parts and assembling vehicles out of them is a known set of steps. It’s relatively predictive across all automotive platforms. What we mean is that workers who do this sort of thing use processes that are largely familiar and consistent whether they’re making a Tesla Model S or a Hyundai Accent.
This consistency of job performance is bad news when it comes to human employment. Workers in this tier don’t have to bring much new knowledge to the workplace. Robots and software can be easily “taught” to take on such predictable responsibilities.
The Industrial Revolution brought on the first outcry against technology. Workers of the day felt that the new machines were going to push them aside, but the truth was that the workers could be trained to run the machines. Instead of replacing them, the new ways helped them work faster and easier. And there was still plenty of manual labor.
Today, it only takes a few human workers to operate and maintain a robotic assembly line.
The Known Unknown
Again focusing on Tesla, workers who hold jobs in the Known Unknown tier include business analysts and budget team members and the engineers and designers whose minds download what the assembly workers will put out. They’re creatively addressing known challenges with unknown solutions.
Their tools are the computers that can’t (yet) do the work without them. Their days’ responsibilities are variable and unpredictable. They know what their challenges are, and what they’ll end up with, but they must figure out how to get there.
Their jobs are safe. For now.
The Unknown Unknown
We could also call this work category The Most Difficult Job in the World. Why? Because there’s no job description. This is the top-of-the-pyramid tier that consumes Elon Musk’s time. He constantly confronts unknown challenges with unknown solutions.
There was no road map to affordable electric car production until Musk decided to build such a map and the road itself — and put his Model S on it. Just like there was no business model for what became PayPal until he decided to start working on a digital payment platform.
Make no mistake, this is a high-risk, high reward career path. There are no case studies. No mentors. No fallback positions because there’s nowhere to fall. Musk is a problem solver who’s highly adaptable and not afraid of trial and error. Of failing or suffering expensive setbacks or going alone where no one has gone before him.
Your advantage if you’re on the Unknown Unknown job tier is that the machines aren’t a threat. AI can’t get programmed to execute actions and activities that have never existed before they sprung from your mind. You’re ahead of the game. Ahead of the machines.
Not forever. Once you’ve done it, it can be copied. Replicated by competitors human or digital. Consider the iPhone.
Until Steve Jobs comprehended a whole new vision of what a simple phone could be, and then set to work on it, there was no risk of replication. Now? Well, virtually any skilled technician, programmed machine can reverse engineer even the most innovative smartphone.
What that means is that the challenge of taking your career into Unknown Unknow territory is that you must stay there and perform at that same high level. Innovation is constant.
We’re Not All Elon Musks but we can all be better than machines
Most of our minds won’t remain open to brilliant innovative pursuits like the talented inventor, but you can better protect your career.
Start by honestly reflecting on your responsibilities and job performance. How valuable is your input? Are you a problem solver? Is your work predictive, its processes consistent? Is your workflow pattern easy to see, or is every day different, filled with new challenges?
The best way to protect your career over the foreseeable future is to stay a step or two ahead of the machines. Get on or stay on a career path of creativity, innovation and self-direction.