Increasing workers’ resilience in times of technological change

Humanity has always been driven by a thirst for knowledge and the desire to innovate. These qualities helped our ancient ancestors adapt to new environments. Millions of years later they led us into an era of computation. Now, human curiosity and creativity have pushed us to develop Artificial Intelligence (AI). But are we on the verge of rendering ourselves redundant?

The question of how to reap the benefits of AI whilst mitigating potential negative impacts is at the top of the EU policy agenda. The European Commission’s recently-released communication on AI notes that while AI has the potential to increase productivity, improve working conditions, and eliminate repetitive tasks, concerns relating to job security and rising social inequality must be addressed if all European citizens are to take advantage of emerging technologies.

At Microsoft, we believe that technology can empower people and companies around the world to achieve more. AI in particular should be designed to augment human capability; freeing up time for people to focus on applying uniquely human skills such as critical thinking, curiosity, and creativity. These are qualities which will become increasingly important in a digitally-driven labor market – not in spite of intelligent computers, but because of them. The ethics-based skills acquired by studying philosophy or psychology, for instance, are the same skills needed to guide the design, development and implementation of AI technologies.

As AI becomes increasingly integrated into Europe’s labor markets, the needs for such human qualities will only increase; opening up new employment opportunities in the process. We’ve already seen this in Germany and Sweden, which have some the lowest unemployment figures in the EU at the same time as having the highest proportion of robots in their workplaces.

Analyzing the skills currently in demand can also provide a starting point for predicting, and preparing for, the jobs of the future. LinkedIn’s Economic Graph, for instance, maps trends related to talent migration, hiring rates, and in-demand skills by region. Country-specific data gives national policymakers, educators and employers information about what skills they should invest in, where education systems are lacking, or how to attract and retain the best talent.

A recent LinkedIn survey of global employers showed that, for 35% of respondents, AI is the top trend impacting how they hire, precisely because – amongst other things – it delivers the best match between the skills of potential candidates and those required for the position. Also helpful in this regard are professional networks such as LinkedIn, which connect workers with promising job opportunities through the use of data analytics and, in the process, bridge the gap between labor supply and demand. According to McKinsey research, such platforms could increase employment by 72 million full-time-equivalent positions by 2025.

The European Commission has rightly recognized the need for greater understanding of the skills needed for future jobs, and alignment with existing educational and employment opportunities. We welcome planned action to further investigate the EU’s skills mismatch alongside ongoing efforts to modernize Europe’s education and training systems.

At the same time, due consideration must be given to the wider impacts of AI, beyond just the workforce-related discourse. As AI takes on a more significant role in our lives, we must ensure it is developed with the welfare of all people in mind. At Microsoft, we’ve suggested six ethical principles to guide this process: fairness, reliability and safety, privacy and security, inclusivity, transparency, and accountability. The more we build a detailed understanding of such principles – and the more technology developers and users can share best practices to implement them – the better served the world will be as we begin to contemplate societal rules to govern AI.

Ultimately, technology should be a help, not a hindrance, in supporting humans thrive in the future. Time and time again, humans have evolved to meet changing circumstances with flexibility and resilience; now we should leverage our own innovations to adapt once more.

Thomas Roca
Economist & Data Strategist, PhD

Thomas is an Economist and Data Strategist at Microsoft European and Government Affairs in Brussels. He digs into data to study labour mobility, skills’ evolution and the future of work. Before joining Microsoft, Thomas held different positions within the French administration, as a researcher and statistician then as data officer, fostering the use of big data for policy making. He collaborated with the United Nations serving as a visiting research fellow at the Human Development Report Office in New York. As a research fellow with Data-Pop Alliance he gives data literacy and code training to students and UN staff. His ambition: democratizing data-science for social good.