Entry 799: Looking for Work in 2040

So now that our granddaughter Sydney is four months old, we’re starting to wonder which colleges she should apply to.

She has already exhibited the sort of curiosity, constant leg movement, photographic smile, and advanced neck musculature that could get her to the top of any number of professions, although none come immediately to mind, at least none in which she could use all four of her areas of brilliance, unless there will be a future demand for a researcher/soccer player/model/and whatever kind of job requires a strong neck. (I actually Googled “What jobs need a strong neck?” and received, among the results, an Indeed.com listing of jobs in Great Neck, which is a very ritzy part of Long Island, and an Urban Dictionary definition of the term “neck job,” neither of which, for wildly disparate reasons, I wish for my granddaughter.)

Anyway, on the assumption that Syd will develop a few more talents in the intervening years, I got to thinking about what kind of attributes will be highly desired by employers in 2040. Computer programming? Engineering? Plumbing? Tattoo artist?

No, no, no, and probably.

According to respected futurist Mark Cuban, billionaire basketball team owner and Shark Tank investor:

“I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering.”

This would seem to bode well for Sydney, who has probably not picked up any scientific or mathematical genes from our side of the family. (Her dad is a coder, but also spends an inordinate amount of time foraging for mushrooms, so who knows what Syd got from him.)

Anyway, Cuban is not alone in believing that generalized thinkers will be in demand. Higher education experts also predict that people with “soft skills,” like adaptability, creativity and communication, will have the advantage in a future automated workforce.

Yeah, well before Sydney tries to get a legacy admission to Rhode Island School of Design (her mother’s alma mater), she should know that the “automated workforce” may not be limited to assembling (and driving) cars and selling airline tickets in such a way that nobody on a flight pays the same fare.

No, computers and robots are developing “soft skills” of their own.

I’ve previously written about computers that write horror stories one tweet at a time. But now computers are invading other creative spheres, such as comedy and fine arts.

As a part-time humor blogger, the first one terrifies me, although, frankly, it in no way threatens my finances because, when it comes to blogging income, I literally have nothing to lose. There are quite a few computer-generated joke sites on the web, none of which have approached the sophistication of, say Jerry Seinfeld. Or Henny Youngman. Or Melinda, a relative of mine, who thinks it’s funny when I make exasperated faces. (Melinda is five years old.)

“What kind of tree is nauseated?” asks the computer. “A sick-amore.”

“What do you call a heavenly body with an assembly line? An assembly planet.”

Okay, so maybe artificial intelligence does not pose an immediate threat to the careers of burgeoning stand-up comics. But what about painters?

A Paris-based art collective created an artificial artist and fed it 15,000 portraits painted over the last 600 years. The program then spat out the “painting” you see above. And signed it. In case you can’t read the name on the painting, it’s: 

. . . which is going to make for an odd-looking sign when galleries start having one-AI shows of its work.

The painting, which the computer calls “Portrait of Edmond Belamy,” is really an incredible likeness, if you consider that Edmond Belamy never actually existed.

The scary part (if you’re an artist) isn’t that a computer was able to create a new piece of art, it’s that the art is going up for auction at Christies. And is expected to fetch as much as $10,000.

Novelists should also feel ill at ease, since min max Ex [log (D(x))] + Ez [log (1-D (G (z)))] has created portraits of the entire fictional Belamy family tree, which demonstrates a capacity for what is known in the publishing world as “making stuff up.”

So, Sydney, I just don’t know what occupations will be safe for humans when you grow up. Maybe just wait a few years and see how it’s going before you apply to colleges.

Meanwhile, keep working on your neck muscles.

See you soon.

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