Every great transformation creates triumphs for those who can seize the opportunities and tragedies for those who can’t. Preparation and thinking ahead is essential. But how should we think about thinking ahead? The first and most fundamental rule for thriving in the new globalisation in the face of competition from tele-migration is to remember that the old rules won’t work. The old rules were developed to help people adjust to competition from industrial robots at home and China abroad. The rules took as given that most disruptive effects of globalisation would be limited to the manufacturing sector, basically to people who work in factories. The most important and most prominent of the old rules was the simple saying, get more skills, education, training, and experience.
This formed the backbone of many national strategies and the thinking of many middle class families hoping to get their children out of the path of globalisation. The old rule did actually make sense before. It was the right way to seize the opportunities thrown up by rising globalisation and automation since the good jobs were in the high-end services that required more education. And it was also the secret for getting out of the path of competition from China abroad and robots at home, because it meant that you were going to not be engaged in making goods. You’d be engaged in doing things. This won’t work any longer since the service sector is squarely in the path of future globalisation.
As a consequence, the get more skills advice is too blunt. In my view, there are three rules for thriving in the future world of work. The first is seek jobs that don’t compete directly with artificial intelligence, specifically, jobs where AI cannot automate the job. Second, seek to build up skills that allow you to avoid direct competition with tele-migrants. That means seeking jobs that require real face-to-face interaction with people or things, jobs where being there electronically is not good enough. Third, and most importantly, realise that humanity is an edge, not a handicap. There are many things that artificial intelligence and tele-migrants cannot do. You should build up your skills in such things.
For example, artificial intelligence is not at all good about social reasoning, or managing people, or dealing with groups of people, or motivating people, or being culturally sensitive, or having empathy or creativity. Those are the sorts of things that will take you out of competition with AI-driven robots. And similarly, much of the compassionate things, most human things we do, require you to actually be in the same room. And that will take you out of competition from tele-migrants. So we should be investing in building up these soft skills, being able to work in groups, being creative, being socially aware, emphatic, and ethical.
These will be things, these will be the workplace skills that are in demand, because robots and tele-migrants aren’t good at these things. Now of course, we can’t all be 100% soft skills. We will all have to be technically fluent. But that’s already true of most people under the age of 30. Moreover, flexibility and adaptability will surely be a very, very important angle in this fast-moving world we face. But where is all this going? What is the future of work? Sherlock Holmes, the famous Victorian sleuth, said, when you have eliminated all the impossible possibilities, whatever lasts, no matter how improbable it is, must be the truth.
And I think we should use this principle when thinking about what our lives will be like in the future after digital technology has changed the nature of work. The future jobs– and we don’t know what they are going to be– they will be jobs we’d never even know about now. But they will draw on skills that artificial intelligence and tele-migrates don’t have. This is why I’m optimistic about the future. My guess is based on three clues. First of all, the jobs that will be left will be those that will require real face-to-face interactions. This will make our communities more local and probably more urban.
If you really don’t have to go into the office every day, or if you really do have to go into the office every day, there will be big benefits to living near your place of employment. So I think the future will be more local than it is now. Second, the jobs that thrive in the face of competition from artificial intelligence will be those that stress humanity’s great advantages. Machines have not been very successful at acquiring social intelligence, emotional intelligence, creativity, inventiveness, or the ability to deal with unknown situations. So human jobs of the future will involve doing lots of these things, because this is where humanity’s an edge.
So the jobs of the future, the workplace of the future, will not only be more local, it’ll be more human. And third, once we’ve managed to transition to the new jobs and the new sectors, this transformation of digital should make us all richer. Things should be made more cheaply by robots and remote intelligence. They’ll cost less. And this will make us materially better off. So hopefully, we can afford to be more generous with those around us. Now these points taken together is why I’m optimistic about the long run, why I believe the future economy will be more local and more human.
The danger is that it may be difficult to get from where we are today to this happier, more local, more human future. The direction of change, in other words, in my view, is not the problem. It’s the speed that’s the problem. And with that, I’ll just close by saying I hope that these few videos and readings on the future of globalisation will help you think about how you can prepare for the new forms of globalisation that are coming so rapidly.