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The ability to code is a top-rated skill today. It will soon be replaced by skills that are more challenging to acquire. Tomorrow’s core competencies will also require aptitudes and training that differ. Resourcefulness, integrative thinking and articulation are likely to become far more valuable and necessary than basic coding and programming. And these two sets of people may differ, unless coders proactively work on the second skill set.

Demand for humanities will rise. As academic subjects, the humanities will no longer be considered inferior or unfashionable. This is already beginning to happen in top colleges in India and abroad. Further, those who are genuinely ambitious would have to travel often, so adapting to different cultures and odd times is something they will have to get used to. It will also become harder for today’s young to establish themselves as experts or intellectuals with everyone having access to super-knowledgeable machines.

All this may sound counter-intuitive, but while not overnight, the shift will probably be relatively swift.

Why? After several years of talk that the 4th industrial revolution would bring about a fundamental change in how we live and work, it is finally happening. The November launch of ChatGPT, a powerful chatbot by OpenAI, provides a glimpse of what is to come. GPT, or the Generative Pretrained Transformer, is a state-of-the-art language processing artificial intelligence (AI) model. It can generate human-like output for many simple and complex tasks, including coding. Many such rapid developments of technologies that use AI, robotics and the Internet of Things (IoT) will cause an upheaval in how we operate. These technologies will get integrated into routinely used software such as Microsoft Office.

Several firms have been working on these technologies for years, but most of these models are not available to the public. With fast-paced technological improvements, the cost of using their next versions has become cheaper, making them more widely accessible. The productivity of those who utilize these technologies effectively will zoom. Providing a good prompt is vital for the quality of a chatbot’s output, for example, so knowing what to ask and how to ask would become critical. Several such technologies can talk to each other, while we need to know how best to orchestrate it. This means resourcefulness will be a crucial skill.

These technologies can already integrate text, audio, video and so on. But they will still take time to fully replicate the human ability to synthesize. Knowing higher-level coding to integrate different technologies for customized usage will come in handy. AI tech works on past data, and this is continuously updated. However, it cannot predict major shifts or deviations from established trends. Those who can foresee these would gain prominence. This intuition is hard to accomplish and tends to come with experience and practice. The young would, therefore, be at a disadvantage.

Future models of GPT will master human-like writing, so it will become nearly impossible to tell if a machine or person has written it. Life-like digital ‘avatars’ with real-sounding voices are expected, too. But, AI cannot replace a human in face-to-face interaction. Investing in live conversation and conferences (not Zoom) will regain importance. Economist Tyler Cowen has already pointed this out in his recent blog post at Marginal Revolution (bit.ly/3VXfy7x).

As live events re-attain prominence, one group may lose out—ambitious women. In the last couple of years, technologies such as Zoom benefited women by reducing work-related travel, allowing them to manage their work and family commitments better. Suppose, once again, travel becomes necessary to prove and establish oneself in person. In that case, like in earlier years, ambitious women may find themselves pushed to sacrifice either family roles or their ambitions unless their spouses are highly supportive.

Women, however, also have an advantage in tomorrow’s world. They tend to be naturally better at soft skills (which will likely be tomorrow’s hard skills). As scientific and engineering tasks get quickly automated, soft skills will rise even more in importance.

What are the implications of ChatGPT and similar technologies being widely available and at low cost for educators and policymakers? Traditional take-home writing assignments and examinations, unless very creatively designed, would no longer be able to distinguish among students.

Detecting plagiarism would become a more time-consuming and futile process. A shift toward viva assessments would become a necessity. Scaling up oral examinations for many students will pose a challenge, as video documentaries with self-appearances and narration by students, a practice today in some colleges, would also find AI tools that could make fair evaluations harder.

Our school and college systems throughout the country should be flexible enough to allow a combination of subjects across functional streams. For example, it should be feasible to take computer science with psychology, business studies and mathematics. This is not the case currently. It would no longer be enough to narrowly specialize in one domain without developing an ability to integrate knowledge across disciplines.

One thing is for sure—the nature of work is changing fast. The winners of tomorrow may be different from the winners of today. Get ready for a new future!

Vidya Mahambare is a professor of economics at Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai.

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