The robots are coming and bizarrely this is the first time that having an arts degree might come in handy

PUBLISHED: 10:03 15 April 2019

Will robots take our jobs? Phil the Robot. Picture: Norwich Science Festival

Will robots take our jobs? Phil the Robot. Picture: Norwich Science Festival

Norwich Science Festival

We’re forever being told that traditional jobs will be obsolete in the decades to come thanks to robots – so what should we be advising our children to study? The surprising way you might be able to future-proof your children’s career path.

When I left school, the career teacher’s mantra was that every single one of us was guaranteed a job at Norwich Union, even if we didn’t want one.

I recall telling him, and later my ‘advisor’ at the Job Centre, that I wanted to be a journalist and being told in no uncertain terms that it would be easier for everyone concerned if I just toed the line and went to work for Norwich Union.

I even got so far as an interview at Norwich Union, and a job offer, before remembering that there were other options: sadly, the one I chose was telemarketing (I did sell TWO conservatories, though) which equally wrong for me, and then I chose going to university which was a three-year pass from working full-stop.

After my degree, I worked for the BBC for an attractive salary (an extra £10 a week on top of my dole) and then I joined the Eastern Daily Press and was summarily sent to Newcastle (to train) and Lowestoft (by train) where I cut my teeth as a junior reporter, which in those days involved trying to keep up with the alcohol intake of the seniors (impossible).

I never had a moment where I didn’t think that I wouldn’t get a job doing the thing I wanted to do, because – in the words of Gene Kranz, flight director of the Gemini, Apollo and Space Shuttle Missions – failure was not an option. Except I’m not sure he actually said that and I am sure that failure is absolutely always an option.

The point is, that it’s just not that easy these days, especially with robots snapping at our heels as humans engineer themselves into obsolescence and create a vast, depressing class of people who won’t be able to get jobs. This is our industrial revolution. We are woefully ill-prepared for the march of our mechanical overlords.

These days, with AI domination on the horizon, I have no idea what career to suggest to young people.

My eldest is about to finish university and has a place on a teacher training course at the University of East Anglia while the youngest is about to go to university and is at a loss as to where his degree might lead him. My top suggestion, having looked into what jobs are future-proofed, is that he either learns how to build robots or goes on Love Island.

According to Avi Godfarb, the co-author of Prediction Machines: The Simple Economics of Artificial Intelligence, in the future there will be two jobs: one involves building artificial intelligence, another involves being on Made in Chelsea.

To be fair, the actual category is “celebrity”, which includes actors, sports players, artists, WRITERS and other entertainers. This is the news that namby-pamby arty types like me have been waiting for: while AI is great at narrow, repetitive tasks, it’s humans that are the best at being creative and we’re a long way off creating a robot that could write the Harry Potter series or tell the story of a phantom hedge that appears in Southwold (I wrote this story last week).

For years, it has been a veritable disaster to be even slightly creative in a world filled with technology and where robots and their paymasters seem to be taking over, but it turns out that the arts is one sector where robots struggle to get a foothold. Finally, a bit of palatable advice to give kids that can’t get to grips with maths or science.

This, of course, flies in the face of everything we’ve been told for what feels like forever, namely that arts are nice but if you want to succeed in life you should do something a little bit more…employable. Robots might be coming for us, but some of us are more ready for them than we thought we were - if by ‘ready’ you mean ‘able to draw them a picture or write them a poem’. It’s a start.

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