3 Ways to Robot-Proof Your Job

Northeastern University president Joseph Aoun outlines a plan to save humanity's role in the workplace.

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By Dan Bova

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Whether you work behind a cash register or a laptop all day, for many of us, there is a growing dread that our industries -- and our livelihoods -- may be going the way of the wooly mammoth sooner than we'd like.

Northeastern University president Joseph Aoun, author of Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, warns that within the next two decades, 50 percent of the jobs we know in industrialized nations are going to disappear, and an even more staggering 70 percent of jobs in emerging economies will vanish. AI, robots and intelligent systems, it seems, are poised to make our lives easier and unemployment harder to avoid all at once.

Related: What Every Entrepreneur Must Know About Artificial Intelligence

Societies will face an enormous challenge in the coming years, he predicts, but we don't have to accept a future of being obsolete and destitute. In his book, and in several talks, Aoun has outlined three major points to help all of us robot-proof our careers -- and our lives.

Foremost, we need to focus on what we can do, and what machines can not, according to Aoun. "If we compete with machines on their turf, we lose." Machines and robots can crunch numbers faster than us, they never get tired and they never need a lunch break at the factory. "But if they compete with us in humanics, they lose," he says. Aoun defines humanics as three distinct literacies, which if we master, should keep us all from becoming replaced forever by hyper-intelligent toaster ovens.

1. Technical literacy

Understanding how machines work will help us better work with them, and allow us to thrive in changing workplaces. We should all educate ourselves to have a basic understanding of coding and engineering, he notes, but it should not stop there. No one knows what new technology is coming around the corner, so we must embrace a culture and practice of life-long learning.

Related: 25 Things at CES You'll Actually Want to Buy

2. Data literacy

Aoun says that "a sea of information" is being generated by AI, and learning how to navigate and analyze that data will be key to not only staying relevant in the workplace, but also to keeping society as we know it alive. It's easy to see, for example, how machines set free to buy and sell stocks could quickly upend the global economy.

3. Human literacy

Our biggest advantage, says Aoun, is humans' ability to "be creative, be innovative, to be entrepreneurial." And to empathize with others, to "look them in the eye and understand their body language." Aoun also notes the importance of having the ability to work in teams and being culturally agile. "The ability to work with people from different cultures" is a key to success. Human literacy, as well as technical and data literacy, is not about spending hours and hours reading. "You can study all of the books ever written about being an entrepreneur, but it doesn't make you one. What you need to do is start practicing it. You need experiential education: integrate the classroom experience with world experience." This, he says, is where we find gaps in needs and services, and recognize the opportunities to create businesses to fill them. And that, Aoun says, is a uniquely human skill that no machine can replicate...for now, anyway.

Dan Bova

Entrepreneur Staff

VP of Special Projects

Dan Bova is the VP of Special Projects at Entrepreneur.com. He previously worked at Jimmy Kimmel Live, Maxim and Spy magazine. Check out his humor writing at Planet Bova.

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