If you need more than one guess to figure out which subject is most prevalently on the minds of readers who are calling to book career coaching sessions, then probably (a) you’ve been under a rock for too long, (b) you haven’t been under a rock but you don’t care or (c) you came out from your rock, looked around, and ran back as fast as you could.
The answer(if there’s still someone under that rock) is artificial intelligence, or AI. In fact, the competition is not even close. Three out of four calls or emails that come into my office are either entirely or primarily about AI, as are four out of five booked appointments. I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. I’ve been in practice as an independent career coach for 27 years and have been writing regularly as a job market observer in this paper for 20. (I’ve also been in the labor force for 55 years, but just humor me and tell me patronizingly that I still look good for my age, and leave it at that.)
Never Seen Anything Like It
In all those years, I’ve seen some of the most civilization-changing developments that we have brought upon ourselves: antibiotics, nuclear power, TV, space, the internet, social media, and now AI. (Of course, I could go a bit further back in history to include inventions and developments such as stone tools, the controlled use of fire, the manufacture of clothing, agricultural innovations, the creation of alphabets, printing, telecommunication, the light bulb, flight, etc. You get the picture.) Here are a few of my observations:
- The above listings are by no means complete. They are simply representative of progress across time.
- With every one of these innovations (and by implication with others as well), we humans, bless our souls, have figured out both the positive and the negative that can be done. And we’ve proceeded along both paths – with every one of them.
- A closer look at a more detailed timeline of these inventions and discoveries shows that each civilization-changing event took place in less time after its predecessor than that one did after the one before it. The pace of change, as it is, has been quickening, not just of late, but always.
So how does AI compare? It doesn’t. In blunt terms, it’s the biggest thing we humans have ever done, and even though its concept has been tinkered with since before World War II, it is still just embryonic. Further, its potential is seemingly limitless, and the exponential rate of growth incalculable.
Something to Fear or Something to Embrace?
That brings me to all those calls and emails I get. Most are from readers who fear for their livelihoods or, at least, that they’ll be overtaken and rendered subservient to this unseen monster. “AI will take my job,” comes the oft-repeated cry.
No, it won’t. Not if we sit down for a little breather and think it through. Remember when IBM put the model 5150 personal computer on the market in 1981? All over the world people were certain that was the end of their livelihoods and their basic utility.
How wrong they were! Not only did the PC not kill jobs, but it’s gone on to create at least 40 million jobs since its appearance four decades ago.
History is full of those stories – and AI is the next one. For instance, the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in 1859 did put the whale oil people out of business – a few thousand of them – but created the fossil fuel business, the largest overall industry in history until now. The few hundred people making buggy whips at the turn of the 20th century complained about what turned out to be the automobile industry.
The differentiator was simple. Those who feared and, in a sense, became Luddites, lost the battle before it ever began. Those who looked for opportunity, found it. Similarly, the key in the case of AI is to be willing to transform, to develop AI skills, to harness its power and to learn what to do with it and how to use it. There are interesting cases of that already.
But that’s the subject of longer, more detailed conversations, like the ones I’m having in my office with, as it turns out, people who walk out of here with a better understanding of AI and the beginnings of a plan to use it.
I’m about a half year into my relationship with AI, so I’ve got plenty yet to learn. I’m still a plebeian and will never be mistaken for Alan Turing.
But what I’ve learned so far is tantalizing. It is no longer time to wait.
Eli Amdur has been providing individualized career and executive coaching as well as corporate leadership advice since 1997. For 15 years he taught graduate leadership courses at FDU. He has been a regular writer for this and other publications since 2003. You can reach him at [email protected] or 201-357-5844.