In 1997 the world chess champion Gary Kasparov was beaten by Deep Blue, an IBM computer programmed to play like a grandmaster.
Two decades have now passed since that shock event, and machines, with ever-increasing effectiveness and speed, now play a role in every corner of our lives.
This was the conclusion that Kasparov reached after his defeat to IBM’s behemoth, when he came up with a new way to play called “Advanced Chess”, in which a mixed human–machine team was matched on equal terms against a similar pairing. Each borrowed the best from the other.
Chess provides us with a very good example of how technology has evolved in recent years, in contrast with human cognition, which has not evolved at all. While Deep Blue is an AI system that is capable of autonomous learning, Kasparov himself is growing old, as his most human abilities undergo a quite natural but steady deterioration.
Since competing against machines is now a lost cause, all we can do is learn to live in harmony with them. The aim of students today should not be to soak up more and more knowledge in order to excel at any given discipline. Standing out from the pack now involves being better prepared to adapt for what is to come. In times that are changing at such a vigorous, learning is more important than knowing.
But the labour market is now witnessing a coming together of these two paradigms. It is no longer enough to be a good technician, because sooner or later the tasks you do will become automated. Similarly, working only with people will become devalued as it becomes the employment refuge of the “technologically challenged”, so the number of candidates for each job will increase and wages will fall.
The outlook for jobs in the years to come is for employers to seek hybrids, candidates who are oriented towards transforming and reinventing themselves, always willing to learn. But we must be careful here, because the responsibility for learning will mostly be a matter for the worker, who must be proactive and a self-starter, rather than waiting reactively to be proposed to be given training, as has been the case to date.
Unlike employers or educational institutions, students and workers must take the initiative for changes by addressing innovations with fast reaction times. One statistic is very telling: in 2016 the Ministry of Industry published an analysis of the supply of public and private university courses, concluding that only 1% of the nearly 13,000 degrees, PhDs and other postgraduate qualifications available were oriented towards training in the framework of the digital era. This setback will take a long time to fix.
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In 2017 the Telefónica Foundation reported that today’s children will on average have eight different jobs over the course of their lives. In other words, they will have to reinvent themselves eight times.
The technical knowledge of today and tomorrow will soon become obsolete. Only with a spirit of curiosity, flexibility when faced with change and responsibility for our own development can one have any hope of getting a decent job. The future will belong to the workers who are the most polyvalent and versatile: the ones with the profile of a Swiss Army knife.
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