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October 13, 2016

Trying to move up from merely converting data formats

MY JOB INVOLVES training students to join a rapidly evolving work force. If I do things right, those students graduate with an awareness that they need to do more than convert data from one format to another. I hope that is happening but I'm very concerned about an emerging trend.

I enjoyed a tabletop conversation with Eugene O'Loughlin [1] 12 days ago and came away thinking that most of Ireland's third level graduates should be well able to prove their worth as knowledge workers. In the United States, knowledge workers account for 29 Million people earning an average of $55k per year. That is a Trillion Dollar market sector.

That market segment is vulnerable to disruption because most of what middle managers do today is convert data from one format to another (a simple software skill) or they gather data (which involves pointing software at the challenge) or they summarise data (easily done with a pull-down menu in most cloud-provided packages).

In essence, software can do much of the work that middle managers are paid to do.

I think if middle managers truly want to make a difference, they need to develop skills of "deep understanding". Brandon Wirtz believes "Deep Understanding" is a step below Artificial Intelligence but is a step above "Deep Learning." Deep Understanding is the minimum one needs to replace most of the work that middle management is doing. [2]

To reach levels of deep understanding of data sets, middle managers need to train and use virtual assistants. Viv is one of the best commercially available virtual assistants. From Viv AI platform came Siri. Viv enables developers to distribute their products through an intelligent, conversational interface. That sort of human computer interaction is the simplest way for the world to interact with devices, services and things everywhere. Like AI inside Cortana and Google Search, Viv learns from the world around it and Viv knows more than it is taught because it learns every day. But Viv is a long way from replacing middle managers.

In the background of several European Research projects, AI has started to replace researchers and has been able to automate tasks filled by recent graduates. I'm worried for graduates who enter the work force in the next five years because if they cannot interact with virtual assistants and train those simple forms of AI to improve their interaction with data sets, the AI will replace the role of low level workers before 2025. In the Irish work force, this means people doing manual work will start to be valued more (but also expected to leverage tools of automation with less resistance) and people in white collar jobs will begin to be replaced by AI.

1. Eugene O'Loughlin's YouTube channel teaches many of my students how to manipulate data.

2. Brandon Wirtz is CEO of Recognant.

+++ Bernie Goldbach teaches creative media for business in the Limerick Institute of Technology. The AI on his Surface Pro 4 laptop can identify his blurred face. The image in this blog post comes from VIV.AI.


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