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How Creative Skills Can Save Your Job From the Robot Invasion

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If you’re worried about robots taking your job, start sharpening your creative thinking skills.

A recent study by the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab called “The Future of Work: How New Technologies Are Transforming Tasks” found that artificial intelligence is likely to eliminate work related to repetitive tasks but increase the need for creative thinkers.

The research analyzed 170 million online job postings in the United States between 2010 and 2017. It found that overall demand for tasks decreased in that time frame, with workers on average being asked to perform 3.7 fewer tasks in 2017 than seven years earlier. The data show that tasks more likely to be done by artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning are disappearing from employers’ job requirements more often than those more likely to be done by a worker.

The Increased Value of Creative Thinking

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Technology is essentially reducing the cost of some tasks, but conversely, increasing the value of the remaining tasks — tasks that require intellectual skill and insight as well as some tasks that involve some physical flexibility, intuition, creativity, common sense, judgment or spoken language skills.

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The MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab reinforces previous findings of other studies, including the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report. That report found that the skills growing in demand are analytical thinking and innovation, active learning and learning strategies, and creativity, originality and initiative.

The consulting firm McKinsey & Company also found that robots aren’t replacing creative occupations. In fact, creative occupations like artists, entertainers, painters and writers may see job growth in this age of automation.

A report by the Brookings Institution finds that many food preparation, office administration and transportation jobs will be taken over by machines but that highly creative or technical positions are most likely to prevail, along with personal care and domestic service jobs that require interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.

Job Tasks at Risk

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If you’re worried about robots taking your job, it might make you feel better to learn that McKinsey predicts less than 5% of jobs are likely to be entirely taken over by robotics and other computers — rather, tasks are changing.

More specifically, job tasks most at risk to fall to automation, include construction equipment operation and demolition, administrative and office support such as booking appointments and entering data, manufacturing work such as assembler, fabricator and machinist and retail tasks such as stocking shelves, checking inventory and cleaning aisles.

As the number of tasks that robots can do better than humans increases, the risk for job loss will increase. But therein lies the debate. AI — which is a rather broad term that covers tasks such as machine learning, decision management, deep learning and text analysis and processing — is only as good as its inputs, or what humans ultimately program. So human creativity is at the heart of AI. And that’s why many people argue that there are some jobs that robots will never take from us — the highly creative jobs.

Here, we look at three creative job categories that are less likely to be hijacked by robots — for now, anyway.


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Kai-Fu Lee, the CEO of Chinese venture capital firm Sinovation Ventures, who CBS’s “60 Minutes” dubbed the “oracle of AI,” lists creative jobs among four types of jobs that will be safe from the AI revolution. The creative category includes jobs like scientist, novelist and artist, Lee said.

Tom Pickersgill, the founder and CEO of Broadstone, a staffing platform that matches job seekers to employers using AI and machine learning, told Fast Company that creative jobs such as singers, musicians and creative writers will never be replaced by robots, because only humans can use their emotions to “bring things to life.”

“Robotics and AI uses data to learn and improve,” Pickersgill said. “I don’t believe data can produce genuine works of art that will truly engage an audience through shared experiences, whether that be a painting, a melody or a voice.”

This category also would include choreographers and dancers, poets and painters — all areas in which robots have dipped their toes already. Ai-Da, an AI machine that can sketch a portrait by sight and compose a conceptual painting with political meaning, is the world’s first robot artist to stage an exhibition. Aidan Meller, curator of the exhibit, told The Telegraph that we’re at the beginning of a new era of humanoid robots. But that doesn’t mean robot painters will replace humans. Rather, the rise of AI art is like the advent of photography.

“In the 1850s everyone thought photography would replace art and artists, but actually it complemented art — it became a new genre bringing many new jobs,” Meller said.


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If you’re a designer, you might not have to worry about robots taking your job. According to the MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab study, design tasks are increasing in value across all wage groups. Design tasks require innovative thinking, bringing together deep insight and experience.

The study found that design tasks including graphic and visual design, industrial design, user interface, user experience and presentation design have increased in value consistently across occupations and wage groups. In mid-wage sales occupations, the value of design tasks increases $8,522. And, in high-wage computer and mathematics occupations, the value of design tasks increases $6,011.

This is good news for art majors, especially those who choose their career paths wisely. PayScale’s list of best jobs for art majors by salary potential is top-loaded with jobs with “designer” in the title. Ranked first is creative director, with mid-career pay of $96,300, followed by design director in interior design at No. 2 with a mid-career pay of $92,200. Filling out the top 10 are design manager, senior industrial designer, visual designer, fashion designer, senior web designer, art director, motion graphic designer and project manager in interior design.

A report from Adobe found that the majority of creative professionals — such as designers and illustrators — do not feel threatened by automation. Rather, most believe automation will help them be more creative by freeing them from mundane parts of the creative process, such as shading a background or labeling hundreds of different Photoshop files.


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Robots have replaced chefs in Spyce, a Boston-based restaurant, and FA-men a restaurant based in Nagoya, Japan. A robot from Moley Robotics was considered the world’s first robotic chef. But the robotic chef doesn’t compare to what a real chef is, argues Sean Hopwood, president and founder of Day Translation, Inc., an online global language services provider, in a article.

“It does not have the creativity of a chef,” Hopwood writes. “It is even incapable of tasting the food it prepares to determine if it’s worth serving. … It’s a tall order and even virtually impossible for machines to take on jobs that require creativity, original ideas, empathy, and other attributes inherent among humans.”

The restaurant industry currently suffers a severe shortage of skilled chefs, and AI may bridge that gap. But not anytime soon, predicts Robot Wars’ judge Noel Sharkey, emeritus professor of AI and robotics at the University of Sheffield.

“It’ll probably be a very long time before we see a Michelin star robot-chef,” Sharkey told The Guardian. “Apart from the AI creativity gap, great cooking involves a subtle understanding of ingredients and delicate cooking that would be enormously challenging for robots. Placing fragile foods on plates would be incredibly slow.”

How to Beef Up Your Creative Skills

Whether or not you’re worried about robots taking your job, it can’t hurt to brush up on your creative skills.

Bernard Marr, and advisor to governments and companies on the implications of AI, dished out some sound advice in Forbes: “In short, if you’re concerned that your job might be one day outsourced to technology, the best thing you can do right now is work on your soft skills. Work on communication, strategic thinking, problem-solving, empathy, and creativity.”

But how do you know which soft skills you need to beef up? To start, examine your current skills by seeing what they’re worth — take the PayScale Salary Survey for a free salary report. Second, you’ll want to identify what skills to add if you want to earn a pay increase or prepare for changes in the workplace that could happen because of automation.

One key step is to learn how to value the skills you have. Not all skills demand a premium, or the difference between how much you are paid and how much someone else is paid when they share your title but do not share a particular skill.

You can develop your soft skills by taking classes with projects that require collaboration, by volunteering and by freelancing. In your current job, you could offer to do a “stretch assignment” that will grow these skills. Along the way, make sure you’re asking for feedback on your communication style, creative thinking, empathy and problem solving.

When you determine which skills are most valuable to remaining relevant in a rapidly changing workforce, you can stay ahead of the robots or whatever changes come your way.

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