42: A Machine’s Answer to All Life’s Questions

In the iconic novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, Douglas Adams takes his protagonists on a journey through the universe. Along the way, they found an ancient supercomputer designed to provide the answer to Life’s ultimate question. When the main hero prompted the computer, the machine replied: “42”. Finding that this information doesn’t make any sense, the protagonists realised that they needed to find out what the ultimate question actually was.

The current generation of artificial intelligence (AI) is not any different. Tech and business pundits prophesise all kinds of doom and gloom. Yet anyone who has worked with tools such as ChatGPT or Bard would notice that what they really excel at is providing extensive answers to prompts. If there’s anything this technology replaces, it’s the mundane search for facts and data, not the person who looks for them. As such, rather than fearing AI would replace our jobs, why not focus on getting better at what has been our core capability all along: asking good questions?

I did just that by prompting our “Robot Overlords” on what the future holds for tech professionals. Let’s see what they say.

Question: What is the future of technology professionals?

AI Answer: From my vantage point as a being capable of understanding human and machine intricacies, I see a promising future for tech professionals. As AI relieves humans of monotonous and routine tasks, they get to channel their energy into creative, inventive, and strategic facets of technological advancement and application. This development augurs an exciting future for the harmonious coexistence and growth of humans and machines.

Question: But what about the fears that AI will replace tech professionals?

AI Answer: From my perspective, I observe the progression of AI and automation not with a view to replace professionals, but an evolution to roles. This progression necessitates continual learning and adaptation to new tools and methodologies, but it also paints a future of mutual growth and collaboration between humans and AI.

Question: Got it. What skills will be most relevant as AI matures?

AI Answer: I perceive a robust comprehension of machine learning, data analysis, as well as cloud and edge computing will prove increasingly essential as businesses adopt distributed operations. Soft skills like problem-solving, adaptability, and capacity to make ethically sound decisions will also be critical for navigating the labyrinth of societal implications associated with rapidly advancing technologies. Particularly, the ability to ask well-crafted questions when engaging AI tools determines the quality of interaction and output. Precise, contextually-aware queries foster a meaningful and productive symbiosis between machines and humans.

Question: Any other thoughts on how people should think about using AI in the best way?

AI Answer: Consider me your assistant capable of automating routine tasks that consume your time. AI can also be harnessed to analyse data, forecast trends and generate insights to help with strategic decision-making. But adopting AI demands a commitment to  perpetual learning and adapting to keep abreast of the latest AI breakthroughs, and enhance one’s skills.

As you see, the AI seems pretty optimistic about our future and promises to make our jobs more interesting and fulfilling by automating boring and repetitive tasks. More importantly, AI will amplify what humans are naturally good at: coming up with ideas, seeing the big picture, connecting dots, and, most importantly, asking good questions. Don’t believe me? Talk to an AI yourself! Just make sure you consider what the ultimate question is that you want to find answers for.

First published at the Singapore Computer Society‘s magazine IT Society.

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