Algorithms and Humans and Disruption at Work
We speculate these days about the role of humans in the Age of Algorithms and Technology. Some believe that algorithms will put more and more people out of “work” as we know it, and as a consequence will change what it means to be human. Others argue that there will always be a role for humans, though some of the skills required by the workplace will be different.
We are firmly in the camp that humans will always be a critical component of work. No matter how sophisticated artificial Intelligence gets, human experience and judgment will remain essential to making things work in the first place, and then to figuring out how to move them forward. But that is not to say that work and the workplace don’t have to be disrupted and redefined. They do. For starters, older workers, with their wealth of experience, are excluded—especially in Silicon Valley. That has to change. Their brains are exactly what we need.
Let’s start with the numbers. Every 8 seconds, an American turns 65. By 2060, 24% of the US population will be over 65 (compared to 9% in 1960). The majority of Americans who reach 100 won’t be cognitively impaired—perhaps not surprising given that 83% of centenarians will be female! Put simply, there are a lot of us older folks and most of us have brains that are still working just fine.
Then there are our skills. Many people our age don’t want to work the same 70 hour weeks that we once did—but we don’t have to work our old schedules in order to share what we know about the short cuts. We don’t care so much about titles, and maybe not even about pay, so we are no competitive threat. We just want to continue to contribute, and to give you what millennials don’t yet have—wisdom, experience, tested judgment. And diversity. We make the workplace a more diverse place, and we all know diversity translates into value.
So why, with unemployment near zero, and employers fiercely competing for millennials, is this rich resource siloed out to pasture? Is it because agism is the last acceptable “ism” of the twenty-first century? Whatever the reason, we will all be better off if the barriers to our participation come down.
Let’s negotiate. You can keep the titles and much of the pay. Give us meaningful work to do on different terms. Don’t deposit us on a virtual island of people over 60—and yourselves on an equally restricted island of those under—and stop wasting what we can give you. Let us be productive. For you.