How To AI-Proof Your Career
For as long as I’ve written about careers, it’s been an article of faith that robots were coming for humans’ jobs. Research indicated that jobs involving repetitive work or manual labor were likely to fall first. Truck drivers, line workers, customer service representatives—any and every job that could theoretically be performed more cheaply by a machine was at immediate risk.
Of course, part of what differentiates us from the robots is our ability to feel smug. And those of us in creative fields did feel like we had an advantage. Sure, you can develop an algorithm to field calls or build a device to assemble widgets. But can you train an AI to write?
Enter ChatGPT, a chatbot program that can take human prompts and churn out everything from sonnets to cover letters to product reviews. And suddenly, it seemed like artificial intelligence might be a real threat to jobs in media, technology, law, education, and more.
Professionals began to get very nervous and for good reason. If companies can replace expensive human workers with relatively cheap software licenses, you can bet that they will. But are we there yet—and if we’re getting close, what can we do to protect our livelihoods?
I will confess to spending a sweaty day or two after the ChatGPT launch wondering about the future of my own career. Service journalism needs to be specific enough to be actionable but broad enough to support as many readers as possible. It’s not hard to picture ChatGPT or another AI coming for at least some of my work.
However, the more I read about the coming AI revolution, the better I felt. Make no mistake: these bots are an amazing technology and likely to get more skilled with each release. But so far, they’re shaping up to be tools, not human replacements. Without supervision, the current crop of large language model-based programs are more likely to break something, plagiarize human writers, or repeat factual errors than to upend the job market.
Remember when self-driving cars were going to replace every rideshare driver and trucker? Well, it turns out that lived human experience is hard to replicate. Again, these technologies may catch up—but they’re not there yet.
Focus on What Makes You Unique
I’m not a futurist, but I predict that AI tools will change many jobs for the better in one specific way: they will increase the value of creativity and original thinking. For example, as a writer who works mostly online, I’ve read (and written, ahem) about a million listicles. You know the type—X Ways to Save Money During a Recession, X Signs That You’re on Track for Retirement, and so on.
There’s nothing wrong with these models. They’re easy to skim and simple to understand. Search engines like them and so do users. But they’re also easier for robots to replicate, which means that writers and editors will have to get more creative to differentiate themselves from AI. That presents a nice challenge for creatives and a welcome change for readers.
Leaning into what makes humans special is good for your career, no matter what you do. Think of it in terms of job seeking. You can use a resume template or cover letter sample or even an AI chatbot to help you develop your job application materials. But an AI can’t decide what you value in a company culture. It can’t impress a hiring manager during a job interview. And it can’t maintain a strong network by helping others so that there will be folks who want to help you when you need it.
Learn the Technology
Automation might not destroy your career—but it will probably change it. So, it’s best to learn how to use these tools as they emerge.
For now, ChatGPT has a free version. It’s worth trying out, especially if you’re worried that your job might be at risk. Knowing how to use these tools can only benefit your career, which may evolve to include using machine learning programs.
Of course, it’s also possible—maybe even probable—that some of us will lose our jobs because of automation, whether it’s through a chatbot, or an automated phone menu, or robotic factory equipment.
The best approach is to stay flexible and curious. Career preparation isn’t a one-time deal. To be successful in a rapidly changing world, we’ll all have to keep learning and growing, whether we stay in our current occupations or retrain for jobs that are being invented right before our eyes.