In the past, machines outdid their human creators in manual activities that did not require much thinking, like assembling vehicles and harvesting crops.
But work that required knowledge, creativity and the ability to think and make decisions were securely within the realm of human activities, and no technology could achieve what humans did in that space.
That has changed.
Earlier this year, an artificially intelligent system beat a group of lawyers at their own game.
In a competition run by the legal AI platform LawGeex, a group of experienced lawyers competed against a computer to find loopholes in a non-disclosure agreement.
The humans ultimately scored 85%, while the AI system scored 95%. Just a 10% difference, nothing too impressive.
But the real shocker is in the completion times. The human team completed the task in 92 minutes, which was excellent by most standards. The AI system, on the other hand, was done in just 26 seconds!
So much for the days when only blue-collar jobs were under threat from automation.
It is common knowledge that technology and automation have not just caused massive job losses, but also obliterated a number of businesses, professions and types of work.
Fears about job losses from automation are nothing new; they date from almost 200 years - to the Luddite Revolution, when a radical faction of textile workers protested against job losses through automation in their field by destroying textile machinery.
Whereas their efforts earned them a place in history books, they achieved little: the entire textile industry was transformed, and they did ultimately end up losing their jobs. But that was by no means the end for them.
Fortunately, human beings are an intelligent, resilient species who are capable of learning and adapting. The Luddites eventually adapted to the changes, taught themselves new skills and entered new professions.
This has been a recurring theme since then. Except things are very different now. The machines that drove the First Industrial Revolution are nothing compared to the thinking, learning, adapting machines that are driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Machines have the ability to do the types of jobs that were possible only for humans just a few years ago.
Naturally, this raises concerns and fears about the future of jobs. People want to know how to prepare themselves, and the next generations, for this turbulent and ever-changing work environment. What careers are best to get into? How can we ensure we don’t become obsolete in a few years?
These are questions I encounter almost daily, more so at this time of the year when young people are choosing careers paths.
In this past week alone, I was invited to speak at two events and a radio programme about the exact same topic. My standard advice to everyone, whether they are young people making a start, or people in the job market, is this: “prepare for uncertainty, embrace change”.
It is impossible to tell what the world will look like in a decade, or even in five years.
Scientists predict there will be more technological advancements between now and 2025 than there was in the past century. This will drive massive change in the global job markets. Change is inevitable, incessant and constant. Gone are the days of linear career paths, when people were expected to finish school, go to university, get a degree, get a job, work for the same company for the rest of their lives, and retire with a pension and a gold watch.
Today, people typically don’t keep a job for more than five years, and that’s the world we should prepare for. It’s a tough environment out there, and to survive I usually recommend the following five tips:
* Embrace technology, rather than fear it. Don’t become the Luddites of today.
Technology and innovation are unstoppable forces and will continue to move forward and affect pretty much every profession.
Those who embrace technology in their careers will certainly have a huge advantage over those who do not. For example, a teacher who is adept at using technology in the classroom will be in much greater demand than the one who isn’t.
* Adopt a growth mindset. Keep learning, keep adapting and keep your eye on the trends.
* Focus on skills more than on qualifications. A degree is worth much less today than it was two decades ago. Today, companies want to see if you can do the job, not if you can pass exams. Not that having a degree has no value; having a degree plus skills, is definitely more powerful.
* Develop your soft skills, like innovative thinking, teamwork and leadership. These will always be in demand.
* Build a strong personal brand. Thanks to social media, it has never been easier to show the world what you are capable of and what you stand for.
Constantly document your learnings and your achievements through a blog, a YouTube channel, a LinkedIn profile or any avenue of your choice.
* Bilal Kathrada is an educational technologist, speaker, author, newspaper columnist and entrepreneur. He is the founder of CompuKids, a start-up that teaches children Computer Science skills. His next column will be published on January 4. Bilal blogs at www.bilalkat.com.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.