Nandan Nilekani at IIT Madras shared valuable gems of advice to the youth.
Change is the only constant and disruptive technologies are only quickening its pace. “I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life. Never has the pace of change been as high as it is today. Today, we are facing a large number of disruptive forces, especially those caused by technology,” Nilekani said. He shared the example of the iPhone, which is currently celebrating its 10th anniversary. “What we have seen in the past 10 years is a complete change in the balance of technology from serving the enterprise to serving the consumer. Today, when you look at the leading companies in the world by market capitalization, they are all companies that service consumers like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple and so on. This is because the balance of power has shifted to consumer technology,” he said.
Life is about constant learning and relearning. “The good news is that you’ve got a degree from IIT-Madras. The not-so-good news is that you can’t stop learning. You’ll have to keep learning for the rest of your life because we are now entering an era of lifelong learning,” he said, adding that lifelong learning did not mean “going to a campus and have fun for five years”. It’s going to be just-in-time learning. A lot of it will even be online learning. It will be learning in short bursts, anytime learning, anywhere learning.
This need for constant learning and relearning will come because
- of our collective inability to predict the kind of jobs that will be done in future. Or the kind of organizations that people will be working for in future.
- The high rate of automation in the jobs will have an impact on the way jobs are done. “We have seen in the past that technology has made repetitive jobs go away as computers became more and more powerful. In the past 10-15 years, you are seeing the rise of AI [artificial intelligence] and machine learning. And increasingly, in the last five to six years, the rise of deep learning, which allows you to use a new kind of technology called neural networks that use a lot of data to make machines smarter and smarter.
- This is only going to continue. We are in what is called the second half of the chessboard. That means that the rate of change is doubling every 18 months, which means that many jobs which exist today, may not exist tomorrow. And many new jobs will get created tomorrow which don’t exist today,” Nilekani said. Even entrepreneurs won’t be able to predict the kind of pivots that will need to be done in their businesses in future. “So whatever way you look at it, whatever you have learnt , you will have to learn something new every few years. Therefore, the biggest takeaway from your education at IIT will not be whether you understand thermodynamics or something else, but your ability to learn new things when you come across them,” he said.
“That said, machines won’t be able to replace humans. As machines become smarter, [technology] will take away a lot of jobs that machines can do well. But it can never take away jobs which require people to do well,” Nilekani said. Soft skills like being able to empathize, collaborate, work in teams, set goals and lead people can never be automated according to him. His advice to the graduating class: “Develop those kinds of capabilities to get things done in a very different way which have a very high degree of human interaction.”