How to future-proof your career in the gig economy

Artificial intelligence offers significant opportunities for our careers. Shivvy Jervis offers three ways to grow and succeed in the era of AI.

What is artificial intelligence (AI)?

Broadly, AI means the automation of tasks that were previously done by humans. This ranges from relatively basic automation to machine learning (which gets better at tasks as it works on them) to deep learning neural networks (that reflect and mimic the function of the brain).

While AI is threatening some jobs, it is creating just as many employment opportunities. Digital sectors are creating jobs nearly three times faster than the wider economy, and roles demanding AI skills surged by 450% between 2013 and 2018.

To make sense of and succeed in the era of AI – particularly for those in the project-orientated gig economy – I believe you need to focus on three different areas: how to augment your role, how to change your mindset and how to keep learning

 

Augmentation: how will AI complement your role?

AI’s lure is that it can take on the tedious or repetitive tasks, freeing up employees to focus on more strategic, creative and cognitively challenging tasks. But this is already in play.

As data sources migrate from the standard ‘big data’ to the more targeted small data and unstructured data, AI is channeling this into real-time, actionable insights – in minutes. In the future, I see this helping us pre-empt customers’ needs, taking predictive behaviour analytics to a new level.

AI tools will quickly help parse complex datasets, reduce logistical overheads or even create promotional material. And we’re using some of this tech already to create legal contracts, turn financial data into news articles, and even create (and narrate) videos for us.

Then there’s the support AI offers. I’ve been using a virtual robot assistant for a few years now. I copy it into my emails and if a meeting is required, my virtual PA selects a time, date and venue that suits all parties.

Looking ahead, these interfaces will become even more effective. AI-powered avatars are stunningly realistic simulations of humans. They can talk to us and fluidly gauge our emotions. We’ve already seen demonstrations of how this technology can support the banking and airline sector, and I wonder if contractors could use these interfaces to give new clients an automated one-on-one meeting at almost no cost?

 

Mindset: how to think like a ‘basement founder’

To be truly receptive to AI within the workplace, there will need to be some form of a mindset shift. The best approach? Think like an early-stage startup founder – boosting self-sufficiency, prioritising responsiveness and, crucially, constantly challenging current notions, concepts and offerings.

This approach has a great deal of crossover with the Lean Startup methodology, which calls on businesses to move nimbly, iterate frequently… and take failure on the chin.

Realism factors in here, too. Remember that contemporary AI will struggle if it is given data beyond parameters. AI doesn’t have judgment or intuition – but humans do. It will therefore require an open mindset from workers who must be willing to embrace and embed it in their way of working.

Given this, it will be critical to structure workflows around what AI can and can’t do. Contractors can ask whether tasks and functions should be outsourced in order to build the task around the technology.

 

Upskilling: keep learning, all the time

One out of three core job skills of 2015 will no longer be key by the year 2020 and there’s little doubt that the gig economy poses a deeply competitive environment. Workers will need to enhance their digital skillsets and literacy for an AI world.

Understanding data manipulation is key, as is appreciating how to use AI tools. After all, 84% of enterprises believe investing in AI will give them increased competitive advantages – and that’s just as true at the contractor level.

Irrespective of career stage or technical ability, receptivity to a culture of lifelong learning is crucial. There are a vast number of resources readily available to those who want to understand AI – so you don’t have to be an expert coder or data scientist to understand how to best work alongside this technology.

AI presents a breathtaking opportunity. This future reality need not feel unnerving. We simply need to tweak and calmly re-adjust our mindsets. And ultimately, forward-thinking employees – and the businesses they work for – have everything to play for.

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