the future of human work

People can never be better at computing than computers. We cannot become more efficient than machines. All we can do is be more curious, more creative, more empathetic. The fact that automation is taking away jobs once designed for people means that it is time we focus on what is really important: our humanity. Service delivery will gradually improve as machines take it over. Accidents will diminish with self-driving cars. Errors will be reduced with robotic surgeries. Many human jobs will fade away.

Just as few people do work that requires pure physical labour today, soon few of us will do routine, procedural, standardized knowledge work. As DeepMind beat the world Go champion in their first three games this week, we should take a serious look at what this means for the long term. Machines that can teach themselves may be better teachers for humans as well.

“Could teaching be trumped by a learning machine? Are we beginning to glimpse the possibility of machines that teach themselves to teach? They learn what works, what doesn’t and deliver ever better performance. We see the embryonic evidence for this in adaptive learning systems, that are truly algorithmic, and do use machine learning, to improve as they deliver. The more students they teach, the better they get. They even tech themselves. This is not science fiction. This is real AI, in real software, delivering real courses, in real institutions.” – Donald Clark

Getting people to be more efficient is a mug’s game, but it’s a game that many of our institutions continue to play. But the machines will beat us at this game – every time. We are on the cusp of being a digitally networked and computer-driven society and it seems we are throwing away the only thing that will enable people to have a valued role in it. Common core education standards are useless for this world of work. So are standard academic disciplines, as well as standard job competencies. These are all for machines, not humans. The future of human work is complex, creative, and unique.


I have focused this past decade on helping people find ways to break out of the standardization mindset. My PKM workshop is designed so that each participant creates their own ‘personal’ path to ‘knowledge mastery. Many of the activities are centered on people, communities, and human networks. There is no shortage of tools to help us collaborate and communicate, and the list keeps growing. But managing our connections with people is what really matters. We are only as good as our human networks.

My social learning workshop is focused on people, skills, and finally tools. It provides a map to get away from standardized learning outcomes and information dissemination. For both workshops, people take the journey as a social cohort, learning with each other as well. Many times friendships are made which continue for long after. Learning in complex, creative, and unique work environments is all about people.

Work is learning, and learning is the work. For our own humanity, that learning has to prepare us for a new world of work. The machines are getting much better at the old world of work than we can ever be.

Further Reading

Beyond the Reach of Automation

Automation is Coming for a Job Near You

One Response to “the future of human work”

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)