Andrew Huth

November 15, 2021

Future proof: 9 rules for humans in the age of automation

Automation has a long history of disrupting jobs and putting people out of work. Kevin Roose's Future Proof establishes 9 strategies for minimizing the risk that you'll be affected be automation.

  1. Be surprising, social, and scarce. You can't beat machines at their own game. Instead, lean in to your own humanity and social abilities. For example, a successful programer won't be a lone genius pecking out lines of code. They'll lead teams, thinks strategically, or explain complicated technical concepts to non-technical people. Jobs that make people feel things are safer than those only about doing or making.

  2. Resist machine drift. Recommendation engines, like Facebook or YouTube, reduce friction in our lives. But they also pull us back to the middle of the bell curve. They definitely don't prod us to do hard, counterintuitive things, or pause and scrutinize our own impulses.

  3. Demote your devices. The best uses for devices are those that only they make possible, but still involve other humans. For example, zooming with a group of friends you haven't seen in a while.

  4. Leave hand prints. How hard you work isn't what matters. How human you work is.

  5. Don't be an endpoint. Jobs that involve mostly taking direction from a machine, or serving as a bridge between incompatible machines, are especially at risk for automation.

  6. Treat AI like a chimp army. Most AI today can follow directions when properly trained and supervised. But can be erratic and destructive when not. Be careful not to give machines more power than they can responsibly handle, or put algorithms in positions where errors harm innocent people.

  7. Build big nets and small webs. Despite take precautions, we can still be affected by automation. Big nets (such as unemployment benefits or universal basic income) and small webs (local community bonds and relationships) help people get back on their feet.

  8. Learn machine age humanities. How to focus, room reading, resting, filtering out misinformation, treating people right, and thinking of the down-stream effects of technology.

  9. Support the rebels. Support people fighting for ethics and transparency in our most powerful tech institutions.

No job is completely robot-proof, but our job titles also aren't our destiny. Most jobs can be done in ways that make them either very easy or very hard to automate away.