- Some Gen Xers may worry that the rapid rise of artificial intelligence bodes badly for their job security.
- But the reality for this age group — those born between 1965 and 1980 — may be just fine.
- In an AI-driven workplace, Gen Xers will have new responsibilities, which can suit them well.
Is there any other general who reads headlines about AI stealing jobs and feels a creeping sense of existential dread?
Because for all the promise these emerging technologies hold, they also have a way of making some of us, ahem, more mature workers feel close to the times.
The prospect of artificial intelligence is frightening to my generation for several reasons. For example, the median age — which is now occupied by Gen Xers, born between 1965 and 1980 — is typically when people reach a high rank in the workforce and reach their peak earning years, both of which AI threatens.
Given that we lack the same level of technological fluency as the younger generations born into this digital age, artificial intelligence scares many of us. (I’ve just mastered my kids’ various sports team apps).
Moreover, we have fewer years left to retrain for new jobs, and we are forced to do it anyway. We are in a sandwich phase of life: many of us care about children and aging parents.
This all means that the artificial intelligence that comes to our jobs now is very inconvenient.
But what if the reality of General Xers wasn’t so shocking? What if our hard-earned jobs and prestige were just fine, maybe better than good?
Research indicates that while some jobs will disappear, more new, better-paying jobs will be created. No matter, your job will be different, said Yossi Shevi, a professor of engineering at MIT and author of a new book on artificial intelligence and the future of work. “ChatGPT will not replace you,” Chevy told Insider. “But it will change your job, so you have to learn it.”
Jobs of the future, he said, will likely result in less content creation and more quality control. Artificial intelligence is not infallible and requires constant monitoring. In journalism, for example, AI can turn interview text into a news article, but a human is still needed to provide oversight, judgment, and context. (foo!)
For Gen Xers who are experienced professionals in their organizations, these new responsibilities can shift to suit them well. On the other hand, Gen Zers and other young workers who have not yet mastered their jobs may struggle in an AI-driven workplace. It’s up to Generation X to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Artificial intelligence is not necessarily a youth game
When a new technology comes along, its benefits usually accrue to young people.
The assumption is that young people are more open to experimentation, more willing to take risks, and more adaptable—and that older, more expensive workers will be quickly moved out to pasture.
Because of the breakneck speed of AI developments, all bets are off, said Matt Bean, assistant professor of technology management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He told Insider that the advent of AI today will be like our discovery of electricity with the electric grid already in place.
“Economists say it usually takes a new, general-purpose technology 10 to 20 years to catch on,” he said. “Maybe it will be quicker – and it is a given that the 22-year-old will be fine.”
Bean pointed out how AI is already being used in medicine, for example. Before the advent of robotic surgery, there was coordination between the master and the apprentice, with the surgical apprentice doing much of the preparatory work for the senior surgeon. The relationship allowed the novice to participate in the proceedings and develop the skills to one day be in charge. With robotic surgery, the lead surgeon takes over and almost all trainees are eliminated.
Bean said the same dynamic is repeating itself in other areas. AI increases the productivity and ability of the “expert”, while isolating the younger person.
At the same time, he said, seasoned professionals Do Need to know how to use technology in the first place. This will get easier as new tools come out; Meanwhile, the younger workers have a leg up. Not only are they digital natives, young adults are usually unencumbered with families and equally with obligations and therefore have plenty of time to learn.
Beane’s latest research points to a solution: flipped apprenticeships, in which younger employees teach senior employees. “It’s a little like when older people turn to younger people and say, ‘What is all this TikTok stuff and how can I go about it?'” he said.
But his research, in collaboration with NYU professor Calin Anthony, shows that when older workers thoughtlessly siphon knowledge from their colleagues, it can make life more difficult for beginners. “Most inverted apprenticeships are destructive to young people because they end up being cut off from the older person’s work or burdened with professional work,” said Bean.
“An expert has strength, stature, and skill,” he said, “and won’t notice it when it sinks a beginner down the road to proficiency with a new technique.”
That’s why Gen Xers in these reverse career trainings take some responsibility to ensure their younger colleagues gain the knowledge they need to thrive in their careers. One way to do this is to develop skills that robots don’t have, which is emotional intelligence.
Embrace the humanity that artificial intelligence lacks
AI’s limitations are many: it doesn’t understand context, it can’t make friends, and it lacks a moral code.
These characteristics and capabilities are why organizations will continue to need human employees—particularly Gen Xers who have a wealth of practical experience under their belts, said Sharla Griffey-Brown, professor of information systems technology management at Pepperdine’s Graziadio Business School.
General Xers’ concern that AI has reversed their slide into retirement is certainly understandable. “You’re at a point in your life where you’re naturally worried about what happens next,” she said, “and you think, ‘Now I’m competing with zero-carbon workers?'” “
But this concern is misplaced. “Employers need people with skills and abilities outside of machines,” she said.
Griffey-Brown said interpersonal skills such as empathy and communication will be in high demand. “As social beings, human interaction is, and always will be, central to work culture,” she said. “Companies need managers with emotional intelligence who can build relationships. These skills will only grow in importance.”
Gen Xers who are still uneasy about AI — anxiety is our specialty, after all — can take solace in numbers. A recent study by recruitment firm Korn Ferry, found that there could be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people by 2030. That’s roughly the same as Germany’s population, according to the research’s country-by-country analysis.
“AI will help us bridge this talent gap instead of taking away our jobs,” Dheeraj Sharma, CEO of Simpplr, which makes employee productivity tools powered by AI, told Insider.
He added that worrying is pointless. “Things are not as good as they seem or as bad as they seem,” he said. “This isn’t about AI — this is nearly 50 years of life experience speaking.”
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