Jiva Technology

AI-proofing your job prospects

I’m hearing a lot of talk in the media about one of the hottest areas of tech right now: artificial intelligence or AI. As is usual in this stage in the technology (over) promotion cycle, AI is going to change everything. Its going to make our life better and its going to make our life worse. Which, as with most things, is probably true depending on what your life looks like at the moment. If I can’t drive and AI powered driverless cars become available, the world becomes a much better place. If I’m a legal assistant whose job disappears because AI does the job better and cheaper, then things don’t look so good.

One thing is for sure, if you’re starting out in a career or thinking of changing, it makes sense to think about how the technology will impact your career prospects in the medium term future. If that current or prospective career involves assessing large amounts of data and drawing conclusions from it, be concerned. You might say, how many jobs does that apply to? To which the response is: a lot. Driving for instance. Or Radiologists. Or even doctors. All of these jobs take a large number of data points and try to draw conclusions from it: is it safe to drive at this speed, is that car going to hit me, is that a tumour? It turns out humans are very good at processing large volumes of informations and drawing conclusions, but for a lot of jobs, AI will be better. Where the technology is less successful is where a lot of human interaction is required and where there are unpredictable scenarios (fashion anyone?). And as we’ve seen in the last 12 months, humans are less rational and less predictable than economics might suppose, so there going to be many fields in which human ingenuity, powered by AI, will achieve breakthroughs.

Most of the prognostication about where AI will make its biggest impact is based on where the technology COULD be applied, but I’m cautious about making bold promises as to where it will and where it won’t make an impact, for one simple reason: money. Most forecasters try to understand the technology and think of what it can be applied to, but the reality is that will have the biggest impact where people can make the most money and we don’t know that yet. Any new technology requires huge amounts of capital to make it stick and it will be a few years before we really know if autonomous cars (for instance) are a mainstream or just a niche application. The same is true for other applications. So I’ll avoid making predictions and instead settle for the easy way out of offering advice. Think of a career, chase your dream, but at leat give a small amount of thought as to whether the perfect candidate for that job could be a computer.


Unused value in Education

Most people who participate in the sharing economy (of which Tutorhub is a part) do so because of its convenience, value or access to products and services that would otherwise be unavailable. But for some, its the reduction in waste that naturally follows sharing things that you aren’t using. I once rented an Airbnb from a guy in Bristol who was passionate about allowing other people to use his stuff when he wasn’t. He rented out spare rooms, he rented out his car when he didn’t use it. And it wasn’t because of the money – he really thought it was a waste for most cars to be parked up by the roadside for most of its life. He may have a point, some estimates place the amount of time the average car goes unused at over 90%.

Whilst its not immediately obvious how, this concept of ‘unused capacity’ that goes to waste applies to the tutors who offer their skills on Tutorhub. An education acquired over many years is a valuable commodity, an asset that can ‘earn’ a return. When its not earning, its being wasted. I’m not aware of any studies that have looked at the economic value of skills and knowledge acquired and not put to use, but presumably its a big number. In general, education is valued ‘for its own sake’, but in a knowledge economy, learning drives earning.

There’s another particular twist in the case of education and learning, because unlike a car or a spare room, knowledge wastes if we don’t use it. It ebbs away. Knowledge is more like a muscle than an object, it gets stronger with use.

What this means is that the sharing economy has particular power in education. It offers particular benefits for those who are willing to embrace it. Students get access to the knowledge they need in a way they want; they get access to rare and difficult skills, they get access at times they otherwise couldn’t without the pressure of peers in attendance. Tutors earn a return on their hard won knowledge at times and in a manner to suit them. They also get to use the knowledge, to keep it alive. And what would be worse, after all the effort that goes into becoming a graduate, post-grad or doc than to see that knowledge slowly drift away …


A quick shout out for a very nice bunch of people who I came across this week.

With the avowed intention of bringing a little of ‘independent bookshop advice’ to the web, lovereading.com looks like a nice way to hear what other people think about that book you have your eye on or just a nice way to get a recommendation. The area of recommendation engines has always been a tough nut for web companies to crack and I’ve never thought anyone has got their algorithm entirely right (I’ve looked at it myself – don’t get me going on the solar magnitude problem).

But Lovereading avoid the problem entirely by using real people to do the recommending. Worth a look.

Another big year at Tutorhub

Its unlikely that any of us will forget 2016 in a hurry, but amongst the political fireworks and celebrity mortalities, Tutorhub turned in another record year. Record visits to the website, record visits to the blog and record numbers of lessons held. Tutorhub hosted more than twice as many lessons in 2016 as in 2015.

Every month might bring a new record, but on behalf of all of us in the Tutorhub Team, we’d like to say a big thank you to students with their thirst for knowledge and to tutors who continue to show up in their droves with knowledge that stretches from the mainstream through to the most specialised corners of academia and professional education.


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