How to compete in an AI-driven world


As entertaining as it is to read about and watch on the big screen, AI is too clever to come out guns blazing and try to take over the world by destroying its creators in some epic and confrontational apocalyptic showdown.

As the superintelligent force that it is, AI’s attempt at world domination would be much more calculated, gradual, and subtle, so that the majority of people wouldn’t even notice it was happening.

One way this might look is a slow and steady infiltration of our homes, pockets, and workplaces through a myriad of useful and economical tools and devices, until it became such an indispensable and inseparable part of our lives, and our society, that it eventually made us obsolete.

Sound familiar? Well, that’s because it’s exactly the road down we’re heading down — and fast.

This is worrying for a few reasons; for one because, as this is real life and not the movies, there’ll be no mismatch team of heroes that bands together and saves the day at the last minute by defeating the big bad AI. Rather, there’ll just be the slow and pathetic demise of a species as it fails to peel itself away from its screens and take adequate enough action to adapt, survive, and thrive.

But again, this is not fiction, and so there’s no one determined outcome that’s already set in stone. The fact is, we’re writing the script and deciding how things will turn out in every moment — in how we choose to work with or against technology and either cultivate or neglect our own uniquely human traits and qualities.

What this looks like is utilising our potential AI overlords for tasks that require things like computational and processing power and memory storage, and focusing on honing skills like critical thinking, emotional engagement, and creativity — the things that are uniquely human and that AI will arguably never master.

The question is, then, how do you do that? One great way is to abandon the sinking ship that is the traditional workplace and join the doomsday preppers for the AI apocalypse — the new economy of freelancers, solopreneurs, independent workers, and digital nomads.

Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.

Just like a prepper goes out into the wild and learns how to fend for themselves so they can survive long after society has fallen, freelancers — as we’ll call them — purposely step outside of convention and the comfortable but crumbling regimes of old to learn how to operate out of new, previously unmapped territories and make themselves 100-percent self-sufficient.

Step one in the workplace survival kit, then, is evolving from being someone else’s employee to becoming a one-person super brand. This goes beyond having a social media presence and an optimised LinkedIn profile; it involves becoming your own salesperson, manager, HR department, and staff.

Here’s where we learn one key component that makes a good — as opposed to a dead — doomsday prepper: know when to rely on tools.

To survive in the wild, you don’t have to be an expert at killing hedgehogs with your bare hands or making fire from nothing — just like you don’t need to be a UX designer or a trained accountant or to run your own business. Such specialisms and software-based tasks can be handled today by tools. Where we come in is in making a critical decision of how and when to use them so that we can be more creative and effective in our own range of expertise.

For instance, freelancers that build a solid web presence earn 65 percent more than those without. They essentially pack their bugout bags full of testimonials, case studies, and self-published material — the stuff businesses love to see but that most independent workers think is too time-consuming or expensive to do — and are thus much less likely to burn out and more likely to succeed in the long-term.

Just as any good prepper knows they couldn’t survive after the end of the world without a community, a one-person brand also knows it can’t exist without its network and business relationships. So, for everything from attaining and maintaining clients to liaising and negotiating with contractors, social coordination and emotional intelligence are two paramount skills for surviving the AI apocalypse.

Even as AI continues to advance, it will be its last feat — and our ultimate downfall — for it to understand human emotions and make fair and contextually-appropriate judgment calls. There’s no doubt tech is more effective in making decisions and predictions based on tonnes of data, but when it comes to human relationships and interactions, which are inherently unpredictable and dynamic, nothing beats a solid handshake and a well-honed gut feeling.

A third and final characteristic of any good prepper is the humility and awareness to be always upgrading, expanding, and refreshing their skillset. Although this can appear a hassle and a waste of time and energy to the uninitiated, preppers are all too aware that instability is constant, and thus, that the only way to find stability is to learn to be comfortable in change.

In the same way, to stay competitive and relevant, a freelancer makes learning a systematic part of their business and daily routine. Their knowledge never stagnates but is always a work in progress, changing according to the latest information and trends. In this way, they spot gaps, move before the herd, capitalise on new markets, and demonstrate creativity no matter if they’re sculptors or accountants.


Joseph Pennington is a freelance writer and long-term traveller from the North of England. Follow him on LinkedIn or Medium for more articles like this one.