How to beat the Robopocalypse: why lifelong learning safeguards your job from AI take-over

Ewa Jaremka|December 14, 2017

Collective angst is palpable among the working world concerning the apparent take-over by artificial intelligence (AI) and robots.

You don’t need to look far in mainstream media, business or technology circles to see that it’s no longer a question of “if”, but more specifically: “what does an AI + robot + human future look like?”

There is even a website called, featuring a tool into which site visitors can enter their job title and receive a “risk level” percentage which reflects the likelihood of them losing their job to a robot. (Thankfully, for now at least, blog writers receive a 3.8% “totally safe” rating).

Perhaps nowhere is the AI-takeover anxiety more prevalent than among knowledge workers.

It raises the next logical and pressing – and largely unvoiced – question: “what should I focus on and learn in my career in order for me to not become obsolete to robots and AI?”

The question reflects both a sobering reality, but also a slice of pragmatism. James Surowiecki highlighted in his WIRED article The Great Tech Panic: Robots Won’t Take All Our Jobs,  that although the hysteria suggests we will all be jobless, US economic data is suggesting otherwise.

Productivity has currently flatlined and unemployment is relatively low: two indicators which would be vastly different if we were already experiencing this dramatic shift of the “Robopocalypse” (to quote Surowiecki’s cleverly coined term).

The reality is that no one has the perfect answer. What we do know is that the pace of technology is evolving at a pace which is far outstripping organisations’ ability to apply new technologies in strategic and long-term ways that benefit both business and humanity. Adaption and reactivity is the new norm.

So, in an environment where unpredictability reigns and disruption is constant, how do you plan what to learn and how to advance your career? What beats the “Robopocalypse”?

Human creativity and problem solving

Taking a broad view across the economy and areas of specialisation, I believe that the knowledge worker’s true value in the future lies in an ability to combine creativity and problem solving together (capabilities unique to humans) in ways that complement the highly automated domains of robots and AI.

To read more about essential soft skills for workers, check out this eBook.

Capacity to learn

Central to this is knowledge workers’ capacity to learn. Constantly and richly. The quote from famous futurist and business icon Alvin Toffler supports this view:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

Learning agility

The ability to be flexible in both approach, knowledge frameworks, comfort in using different digital tools and to have a “growth-mindset” will be the foundation for many cohorts of job categories in the future, if not a universal standard. In essence, having “learning agility” and the ability to interact with all types of people (and robots!) will be fundamental.

Lecturer in Applied Ethics and Socio-Technical Studies at Griffith University, David Tuffley, recently surmised that to be well placed for jobs in the future, areas to develop are problem solving, creativity, empathy, resilience and integrity. “In the brave new world of the coming age of intelligent machines, it is these essentially human qualities that will be more important than ever”, he writes.

Lifelong learning

Lifelong learning is the fuel of modern careers. It’s widely recognised that in the digital age, continual learning is not optional, it’s essential. No longer can anyone claim they “know it all” in a particular profession or domain.

The students and employees that want to further their career and gain a competitive advantage will be hungry learners, feasting on a menu of improving their humanistic skills (empathy, teamwork, leadership, creativity), while increasing their knowledge of the insatiable pace of change in technology and industry.

The upshot

Much like the ages of great disruption before, such as the industrial revolution, today’s employees face challenges. At a time when we know robots and AI will be become infinitely “smarter” than humans, it’s the development of our very own human qualities and the ability to integrate them within technology, that will become a cornerstone for careers that endure well into the future.

Janison’s online learning solutions are designed to take your team’s knowledge into the future. To find out more, contact us today.

About the author

Ewa Jaremka


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