2 types of jobs robots won’t steal

Rick Newman
Columnist

Digital technology is changing everything, and there’s probably more disruption ahead of us than behind. So will there be any jobs left for humans to do in 20 or 30 years?

Actually, yes. “There’s still no shortage of work that humans can do well,” MIT professor Erik Brynjolfsson tells Yahoo Finance in the video above. “Humans still have strength in a couple of very important categories.”

Brynjolfsson is co-author, with MIT scientist Andrew McAfee, of the new book “Machine Platform Crowd,” which lays out the challenge for businesses still trying to adapt to the dizzying pace of technological change. It’s a follow-up to their 2014 bestseller, “The Second Machine Age.” The good news about the next technology tidal wave is new digital tools will be creating unprecedented opportunities for businesses able to harness them. The bad news, for those resistant to change, is that the developments of the last 20 years are probably just a warm-up for the monumental changes coming as artificial intelligence and machines able to learn on their own become prevalent.

[You can listen to our podcast with Brynjolfsson and McAfee by clicking here or downloading it (for free) from iTunes.]

Workers in many industries have already been pushed aside by robots or other types of automation, or forced to learn new skills in order to harness the power of machines. More of this is coming, for sure. But there are at least two types of jobs where humans will continue to have an edge.

“One of them is interpersonal skills,” Brynjolfsson says. “Emotional intelligence, coaching, persuading caring, negotiating. Most of us would want to deal with another human for those kinds of tasks. I think that’s going to be a big growth area going forward The other huge category is in truly creative work. Entrepreneurship, scientific discovery, writing novels. There’s no better time in history to be a person with those kinds of skills, because the machines can help leverage it.”

Notably absent from this informal list are many jobs people have today—administrative work, number-crunchers, middle managers, clerks, cashiers. Some of those jobs seem likely to disappear, but ordinary people can—and should—take steps to get ready for whatever disruption visits their workplace.

“It’s incumbent on people to look at their skills and try to improve them to get ready for this world that’s coming,” says McAfee. “Complacency and nostalgia are really bad personal strategies in this area. You don’t need to try to become a supergenius to be valuable in this world that we’re creating. Interpersonal skills are still really valuable, and all of us can easily think of interactions we’ve had with people that were really fantastic even if what they were doing wasn’t an incredibly elite, highly educated job.”

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Rick Newman is the author of four books, including Rebounders: How Winners Pivot from Setback to Success. Follow him on Twitter: @rickjnewman