How to Not Lose Your Job to AI

Mark McKinney
Written by Mark McKinney on
How to Not Lose Your Job to AI

AI can now code — are you doomed?

You read that right. With just a few simple instructions, AI can now program full-fledged software. The question is now: are we becoming irrelevant?

Initially, that’s what the future might look like when witnessing OpenAI’s new platform, Cortex. Cortex essentially allows you to ask it, in “human speak,” to code things for you. Take this demo clip for instance. In it, the Cortex team is asking the AI to make a simple game where the player has to dodge a bolder using the arrow keys:

In the full video, you can see Cortex put together a simple website from a couple of sentences.

By just giving the AI instructions in normal human speak, Cortex quickly built a working game. Now imagine using that AI technology to store passwords, host blogs, and handle your finances. That’s pretty incredible, almost scary, isn’t it? Thankfully, there’s a catch.

In the words of one OpenAI engineer, “coding is two things: it’s deeply understanding a problem — figuring out how to chunk it up into smaller pieces — and it is, secondly, mapping small chunk of problem statement to code. And Codex really excels at that first part.”

So, what’s he saying here?

Essentially, the AI can solve the small pieces of the puzzle that you give it. However, it’s up to you which pieces to give it and how they should ultimately fit together. That’s where your experience, passion, and creativity come into play and completely outwit AI. If you’d like to learn how to do this, you can check out a previous article of mine called “Radical Uncertainty: Why Your Projects Fall Flat and What to Do About It.”

So no, you and I are not doomed. Instead, we must adapt to an exciting new reality.

Personally, I’ve always been a proponent of AI being a tool for enhancing human capabilities rather than a threat to our job security. Cortex, even in practice, is evidence of this possible symbiosis.

Because of tools like Cortex, we’re moving steadily from hyper-specialization in the job market to the need for vision. In this quickly forming new reality, talented generalists will be in demand rather than parochial specialists. Companies will need people who can think across domains and use cutting-edge tools to develop the big picture. It doesn’t matter if you’re coming from an engineering, business, or artistic background — it’s your ability to use tools for problem-solving that will set you apart. Sure, it’s essential to have a focus that’s been honed more than the rest. However, your value is how well your other knowledge bases complement your focus.

So, how can we prepare ourselves for this shift?

While a generalization of interests and talents is different from person to person, there are some key traits to consider.

First, let’s take a look at our approach to technical skills. In a March 2020 study, researchers tested the assumption that high levels of mathematical knowledge were required to learn programming languages. To do this, researchers compared the learning rate of those with high mathematical aptitudes to those with high language learning aptitudes. To put it more simply, they compared people who were good at math to people who could quickly learn new human languages when learning to program.

According to the results:

“Contrary to widely held stereotypes, the ‘computer whisperers’ investigated herein were facile problem solvers with a high aptitude for natural languages. Although numeracy was a reliable predictor of programming aptitude, it was far from the most significant predictor.”

Thus, those who understood the fundamentals of human communication could quickly learn to program — mathematical confidence was a minimal contributor to that effort. So, having technical understanding is important, but being able to communicate your goal effectively is essential. Cortex and similar AI-backed platforms can deeply understand one area, but it’s your job to map those areas to solve the problem. This remains true if you’re sending out instructions for humans or writing a program for computers. You must be able to communicate your vision in the way the receiver will best understand.

And that’s precisely where a more generalist approach comes in handy. The more domains you’re aware of, the more problems you can identify and solve and the broader the audience you can reach.

This is primarily accomplished through a “mental model” called orthogonal thinking. At its essence, orthogonal thinking is the intersection of two or more unique domains to build something new. You’ve definitely heard of this before, but now you have an official name for it (yay, academia, you’ve done it again).

But fancy words aside, this is seriously important. That’s because your ability to use orthogonal thinking will set you apart and make you excel in our new reality. It will be your ability to find that hidden intersection between the capabilities of your tools, your breadth of knowledge, and your ability to keep your vision that will make you special. And there are some intriguing ways you can accomplish this, which I detail in another article called, “Buzzword Breakdown: Achieving Orthogonal Thought.”

Now, hold on. I know that you might be counterarguing that, “wouldn’t deeply understanding my tools, like Cortex and the programming language it’s coding in, help me? Wouldn’t that then mean specialization is now even more important?”

Absolutely, understanding your resources is crucial! Having a focus, like technical expertise, will always be important, but not at the expense of narrowing your awareness of other domains and complicating your communication. While Cortex and similar AI platforms have nuances and intricacies, this doesn’t require an obsessive amount of expert technical knowledge. If it did, it wouldn’t be very useful.

What is required is for us to place these tools in the correct position of our vision. And remember, everyone’s generalizations will be different. This isn’t a call for everyone to know everything, but it is a call for everyone to broaden their focuses and to look up and see the big picture.

With the rise of new technologies like Cortex, our important human skills have been underscored. That is, we must now focus on what gives us our edge: the ability to map out our vision and adapt our communication to problem-solve efficiently. To thrive in this new reality, we must learn to be generalists.

Mark McKinney

Mark McKinney

Hey there, I'm Mark. I graduated with a Master's from High Point University in North Carolina where I studied Entrepreneurship and Strategic Communication. I'm currently a Technical Solutions Engineer at Permutive.