And you thought last year was uncertain.
127,000 tech layoffs already. The rise of ChatGPT. The massive redoubling of the term “AI” in every second sentence on LinkedIn. Doom-and-gloom articles running rampant including this gem, arguably the most ignorant and smug one I’ve read so far.
I get it. We’re scared. We invented fire and now it’s spreading and we haven’t dreamed up a fire extinguisher yet. theresanaiforthat.com shows 1 to 2 new fully-formed Artificial Intelligence-centric apps being released onto the web every 24 hours.
Do not mistake the zeitgeist - you’re feeling it right. The flywheel of companies going all in on AI is in full unrestricted spin. Forget the Metaverse (the what?), forget Web3, forget whatever-the-heck else came before those two.
Machine learning model-driven computing and working, or commonly, AI, is going to be where the spotlight will sit for a somewhat uncomfortable near future.
AI apps. AI jobs. AI congressional hearings. AI investment portfolios. AI warfare. AI-generated avatars of newscasters, movie stars, priests and politicians. AI memes. AI oddly-specific branded flavors of Mountain Dew.
It could burn out, but let’s assume for the time being it won’t. It’s a tool that has hit the trifecta of general utility: fast, cheap, and just enough quality to fool your boss, teacher, spouse, kids or parents into thinking whatever it made came from you. It’ll stick around.
And everyone’s eventually going to use it or interact with something that came from somebody who used it.
What are you going to do about it?
The Big Picture: You’ve Got Three Choices
You’re faced with a daunting world-shifting technology that every blog, news article and tweet is telling you is coming to take your job.
Here are your choices.
- Use it / embrace it
- Fight it / regulate it
- Ignore it
You get to do any combination of these 3 you want.
But I don’t think #3 is a good plan if you want to come out on top.
Spoilers - I think the right answer is a combination of 1 and 2. We’ll talk about specifcally how to think about AI in the context of your job in a minute but for everyone out there, at a minimum this is what I’d recommend:
- Use and be familiar with AI systems enough to -
- Know when you’re likely being manipulated
- Net decent productivity gains that keep you ahead of the pack at your job
- Understand your own level of ethical “red line” you refuse to cross and you believe society should not cross.
- Use what you learned from 1 to support regulation and collective action against AI overreach
- Support through financial or signal boosting collective action projects that “fight” AI overreach such as
- AI spotting software/debunkers
- Misinformation fighting tools/bot banners
- Support legislation and legislators who:
- Support collectivization/unionization of workers (this’ll be a big thing)
- Support restrictions on AI usage where it can negatively affect people of color, LGBTQ people, poor people etc.
- Support Universal Basic Income. (Anathema! I can hear the crowd say. Just - think ahead a little bit. Robots, dude.)
To this I’d also add:
- “Buy” from companies who are transparent, ethical, and open to change on their use of AI
- This includes where you spend your free time, where your eyeballs go, etc. Ad revenue IS revenue, that’s why “buy” is in quotes up there
- Be aware of where you’re providing your personal information and where possible use alternatives that treat your data with care.
That’s Nice, What About My Job?
McKinsey has some not-so-nice news for you. There’s a lot of insights here and it’s your call how much to believe, but the headline number is that 1/3rd of the US workforce may need to upskill/reskill and change their career paths by 2030.
Again - we’re going to assume that’s true.
There are three layers to your survival and … thrival(?) in this new world.
- Roles that are going to be more at risk or less at risk of overall replacement.
- Duties in any given role that are going to be more or less at risk of replacement.
- Tools based on AI that you can use now to automate away low-value tasks.
As before, you get to choose any combination of movement along these three axes you want to survive but here’s my equation:
- Learn AI Tools now
- To automate away Duties that can be done by AI
- So that your Role refocuses on valuable work that can’t be done by an AI.
This requires a lot.
- It requires you learn and use scary new tools.
- It requires you be willing to change your work habits to cede at least some production to an AI.
- It requires you take an active role in reshaping your job with the help of your leadership to be future-ready.
There will be protests I’ll hear at each layer. Here are some.
I don’t know what tools I should use!
Here’s a giant list. Here’s a smaller list I made.
Almost all of them have free trials.
- Today: Try a tool from either list. Just do it.
- Tomorrow: Try another one.
- Over the Weekend: Make your own list.
My work won’t let me use AI tools!
That’s right, they won’t. Yet. Lawyers are up day and night right now with every C-level exec trying to figure out if letting their workforce use AI is going to destroy their company and for now they’re playing it safe and might be telling you you’re a Bad Person for even thinking about interacting with AI tools.
That’ll change, and faster than you can blink. When one company drops the shield, they all will. That’s how it works. A couple of key cases will get up to the federal level in the US, maybe even to the Supreme Court, and the guidelines will become clearer, companies won’t worry about being the first to get sued for their entire net worth, and off we go.
The answer: Use AI for your side hustle. I know you have one.
Learn at your own risk, your own time, with whatever you’re passionate about.
If you can’t bring it to work now, be ready to bring it to work when they open the floodgates.
Because those gates are going to open.
My boss won’t let me reframe my job!
Bummer. If you can’t have an honest conversation about proactively prepping your role for the future at your current job, get ready to look for a new job. Reframe how you want to interact in the world of AI, write it down. What would you do to solve valuable problems for a company if much of your day-to-day could be automated?
Jobs like this will begin to appear. Get on LinkedIn, get on Glassdoor, get on every site and get looking now, watch for signals. People are joking about the job title AI Prompt Engineer now, but today’s nascent laughable side hustle is tomorrow’s rank and file white collar job.
And that’s the macro picture - no matter what the neo-luddites want to believe about the death of white collar jobs, it ain’t happening. AI isn’t going to destroy knowledge work. It’s going to make knowledge work about a whole new type of knowledge, because AI is a tool, wielded to attain power and wealth, something companies and nations want and will fight for.
The war - whether it’s the political kind or the corporate kind, is going to shift. They’re going to need people to use these tools, build these tools, evolve these tools, deploy these tools, repair these tools, and right after this comes the quantum computing revolution that’ll start the next phase of the war.
This is all to say - those layoffs? They’ll hire ‘em back.
Let’s get learning.
This is Just More Uncertainty
If reading this whole thing has given you hives I don’t blame you.
We weren’t in this pickle a year ago. If it feels like the pace of change is picking up, you’re right.
But tools have always led out in front of our societal understanding and bucketing into “good” and “bad” ideas of behavior, so right now we’re operating without a net. The result? Uncertainty.
Good thing I gave you a guide for how to deal with that last year. I should probably write more often.
I’ll finish here with what I said there.
My rules aren’t meant to control your behavior.
They’re not meant to stop your thinking.
You’re in charge of your own rules.
Read, consider, and apply as fits.
Good luck out there.