Robots

Cuban says the future is grim for workers who don’t learn how to out-human robots

NHL great Wayne Gretzky famously described the secret for his success on the ice as his ability to “skate to where the puck is going to be instead of where it has been.” As owner of the Dallas Mavericks, billionaire Mark Cuban is a basketball man who prides himself on keeping his eye ahead of the ball in business.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg.com Cuban questioned President Donald Trump’s ability to see down the court when it comes to the future of American jobs. Instead of promising a return to the manufacturing jobs of yesterday, Cuban believes leaders like Trump should be thinking about how to prepare workers for the automation tsunami that will fundamentally remake the job market.

“The nature of work is changing and it’s not just going to be factory workers who are displaced. . . The amount of change we’re going to see over the next five years, 10 years will dwarf everything that has happened over the last 30 years.”

Cuban predicted that the expansion of deep learning, machine learning and neural networks will lead to an “automation of automation” that will eliminate entire categories of work from computer programming to basketball analytics. Cuban understands that his predictions may sound like depressing news for workers who are holding on to memories of the prosperous 20th century manufacturing economy, but he has a suggestion for humans who want to remain relevant: Bring an added dimension to work that computers can’t bring. To that end, Cuban believes that liberal arts majors who study subjects like English, philosophy and foreign language will be in high demand in coming years because of their grounding in critical and creative thinking skills that can’t be programmed.

Cuban is also a big fan of large-scale jobs programs like AmeriCorps that can give workers access to jobs that provide services that are in the national interest while keeping our economy stable.

Cuban isn’t the first to suggest that workers need help to navigate a job market that is increasingly reliant on automation. In a recent New York Times column by Thomas Friedman, corporate leadership consultant Dov Seidman compares the modern shifting nature of work to the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo, which “challenged our whole understanding of the world around and beyond us – and forced us as humans to rethink our place within it.”

Seidman suggests that robot-proof careers of the future will be those that engage the heart instead of the brain.

“Humans can love, they can have compassion, they can dream. While humans can act from fear and anger, and be harmful, at their most elevated, they can inspire and be virtuous. And while machines can reliably interoperate, humans, uniquely, can build deep relationships of trust.”

American leaders better get smart about finding ways to develop talent and opportunities for work in a world where computers are increasingly doing what humans used to do. Thanks to automation, opportunities to make a living by the sweat of one’s brow, or even the power of one’s brain, will be fundamentally different in the 21st century.

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Kim Trent

Kim Trent is a policy associate for Michigan Future, Inc., a non-partisan, non-profit organization. Michigan Future's mission is to be a source of new ideas on how Michigan can succeed as a world class community in a knowledge-driven economy. She also serves on the Wayne State University Board of Governors and is especially interested in education policy and race, class and gender issues.

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