Plenty can happen in a year. Last spring, the Harris Foundation for Lifelong Learning and the Institute of Continuing Professional Development (iCPD) were busy preparing their report ‘Ready for Change? Longevity, Technology and Lifelong Learning’. From artificial intelligence to the aging population, the paper explores the shifting landscape we are all currently facing, and it suggests ways forward.

Since then, there has indeed been significant change. Most notably, the topic of artificial intelligence (AI) has been hitting the headlines as tools such as ChatGPT and DALL-E have captured the public’s imagination. They have also sparked a fresh wave of fear over where this technology is heading, and how fast.

So, how can we, as individuals, respond to the changes and challenges ahead? We need to follow the example of AI and keep learning. Here’s why…

Enhancing personal and professional life

“There is no denying that advances in technology over recent years have had a huge impact on the way individuals in the UK go about their daily lives. Use of digital technology, for example, has become a personal life skill, which can enable people to perform everyday tasks and to participate in wider society. Keeping up with all of this, as far as possible, requires a learning mindset.”

Ready for Change? Longevity, Technology & Lifelong Learning, 2022

On a personal level, there are some immediate ways that individuals can benefit from the new wave of ‘generative AI’. Do you need to draft a difficult email? Are you looking for instructions to help with a practical task? Would you like to understand a complex topic? With a bit of coaching, the latest AI chatbots can do all of this for you, and more. They are far from perfect, however. Learning more about how these tools work and how to use them properly enables you to get the best from the experience.

When it comes to the issue of AI in the workplace, the picture is less clear-cut. A recent report by investment bank Goldman Sachs suggested that artificial intelligence could replace or diminish the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs globally. Experts have noted, however, that the technology will also go on to create new jobs, and this will help to close the gap. Regardless, change is inevitable.

In the face of substantial changes to their job descriptions or, indeed, a change of job altogether, professionals need to focus on upskilling and keeping up-to-date – learning how to use new technology as it surfaces and understanding what this means for their own industry and role.

All of this learning will help with future-proofing, and it can also be incorporated into an individual’s CPD portfolio.

Developing critical thinking as a core skill

One feature of the latest generative AI tools is their ability to mimic humans. From conversing in a life-like way via text, to generating plausible synthetic voices, to creating realistic-looking photos and videos, AI is already able to fool us in many scenarios and it is getting more convincing as time goes on.

Where might this lead? A possible impact of these ‘deepfakes’ could be a breakdown of trust. Mhairi Aitken, ethics fellow at the Alan Turing Institute, highlighted in a recent interview the ‘very real risks and very real impacts of AI that are already around us today’ relating to misinformation and disinformation. She pointed to the need for more regulation as one way to tackle this issue.

Most immediately, however, individuals can focus on sharpening their critical thinking skills. Learning what today’s technology can do and keeping up with developments as they unfold will help professionals to stay alert and avoid traps along the way.

Creating a vision for the future

The rapid technological changes taking place present us with some difficult questions: What do we want the future to look like? Do we ‘go with the flow’, or should we play an active role in shaping that future?

By learning as much as possible about today’s technology, professionals can move forward with more confidence. Whether upskilling for a particular role, driving change within an individual business, supporting changes within an industry or pushing for government regulation, being better informed will help each of us to make more powerful choices.

What next?

When finding out more about the impact of artificial intelligence on your own work, remember to log any relevant learning as part of your CPD. Then join iCPD, if you haven’t already, so you can broadcast your commitment to professional development.