At Work

X Prize founder Peter Diamandis: A.I. will be most important tool to keep a job after coronavirus

Key Points
  • X Prize founder Peter Diamandis says every single job will be disrupted by artificial intelligence.
  • The futurist says workers need to use AI to their advantage to upskill in a labor market that is changing rapidly.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic heightens the need for employers and employees to use new technologies including AI, virtual reality and digital learning.
XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis on the need for rapid reskilling

While many people think of automation as the biggest threat to human labor, X Prize founder and executive chairman Peter Diamandis says that artificial intelligence will be more crucial than people realize to reskill workers on the other side of the Covid-19 crisis. 

Reskilling was already important for workers to keep pace with advances in technology, and the pandemic has heightened the need to upskill the labor force.

"Covid-19 hits, and there's another asteroid impact, it hits the playing field so much, any companies that are teetering on being a decent market product fall apart, people start losing their jobs in old school industries, and so rapid reskilling is really about addressing both the exponential tech impact on our job market and also on Covid-19. We need a means by which all of us are able to continue to upskill what we do," said Diamandis, speaking at a recent CNBC @Work livestream.

The speed of reskilling will pick up as well, according to the futurist, who launched a competition called "Rapid Reskilling," which has offered a $5 million to teams which create solutions to quickly reskill under-resourced workers.

"One of the most important aspects of the future is going to become agility, it's not being the expert, it's being agile in you partnering with technology and then being able to rapidly adapt to what's needed," he said. "The reskilling time gets shorter and shorter and shorter, and ultimately it's you as a human being who is agile, being able to take knowledge, apply knowledge versus having to memorize it and fully understand what it means in order to apply it." 

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In some professions, resisting AI will pose a greater professional risk than embracing it. 

"Artificial intelligence is going to disrupt every single job, from yours to mine. … I tell my physician friends that in the future it's going to be malpractice for you to make a diagnosis without having AI in the loop, because AI is able to read the thousands of journal articles published this morning and look at the petabytes of data about your patient that you'll never be able to cognitively understand." Diamandis said. 

Employers and employees should also be taking advantage of other technologies whose importance has increased during the pandemic, such as virtual reality, which has the potential to help employees build their skill sets and, right now, onboard employees in a virtual world of work. "VR is going to be an incredibly important training capability," Diamandis said.

A.I. as an educator

The rise of Zoom, Coursera and other online learning platforms can be valuable for workers looking for a low-cost, and sometimes free, upskilling option. 

"There are so many free tools that can allow you to upgrade your thinking, that once you figure out your passion, go forth and educate yourself because there are incredible tools. Some of these are free so it's really making the decisions yourself to say 'I'm gonna go and do that'" Diamandis said, and he added that employers should be encouraging this education.

"Incentivize your employees to go out and educate themselves on nights and on weekends or give them 20% time to go and do that for themselves. Give them guidance about what you need. The tools are out there; they're going to get better but they're out there already."  

Education is an area in which Diamandis sees AI playing a major role in creating a personalized educational experience, particularly for children. 

"Artificial Intelligence isn't the solution for everything, but in education it's going to be one of the most important solutions helping to create a personalized education that knows that child … and is meeting them exactly where they are and then moving them up. Instead of in our current classrooms, half the kids are bored, half the kids are lost," Diamandis said.

The remote learning experience forced by Covid-19, has raised concerns about inequality in education, which includes but is not limited to access to laptops and tablets.

"There is most definitely a problem and a divide that needs to be addressed, because if you're lucky enough to have a parent with you at home to support you, without having to be at work to keep the family fed, that makes a big difference," he said.

For more on tech, transformation and the future of work, join the most influential voices disrupting the next decade of work at the next CNBC @Work Summit this October.