Why This Future of Work Thought Leader Says AI Will Enhance Human Work Not Eradicate It

Author: Engineering Alumni Office

Posted on Mar 10, 2018

Category: Alumni Spotlight

Krista Jones (BScEE’88) sees an “enhanced future” for the human workforce, dispelling the many recent media reports of a “jobless future” due to the rise of AI.

Jones, who is the managing director of Work and Learning at Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District (the world’s largest urban innovation hub), says that the headlines are preying upon people’s fear of losing jobs but not reflecting the reality of how it’s people who are actually rolling out the new technology available. “I see the responsible application of tech causing disruption, so I see a changed future, but not a jobless one.” “There’s a lot of great work being done to look at how people can build new skills and stay relevant to working with technology, not being replaced by it. We have to move from a ‘job market’ to a ‘skills market’ as a society in the next 5-10 years. We have to look at the capabilities people have, and when we do that our imagination will free up to the possibilities of bringing the human element back into the labour market.”

Jones has the knowledge and experience to know what she’s talking about. She’s worked at both large companies and startups helping to build new technologies and innovative products. She’s also been actively involved in over 200 startups through her work at MaRS, and with her husband when they bought a children’s technology educational franchise that fostered early innovation and creativity in robotics, animation, digital art and video game design. Her unique combination of strategic, technical, operational and marketing expertise has led her to become a thought leader on the “future of work” by organizations around the world.

And it all began at UNB. Having grown up in Quebec, Krista moved for her last year of high school to Miramichi, New Brunswick where her mother’s family was from.  Her strengths in computer and tech along with math and physics snagged her a prestigious engineering scholarship from her hometown pulp and paper mill that took her down the highway to Head Hall. She chose the electrical stream, both because she could take many computer and software courses and because she was told: “it was the hardest stream, and being the competitive person I am, of course I had to accept the challenge!” It was early days for computer and tech systems at UNB, and she says the professors made it exciting to study the ‘next big thing’. “The encouraging environment of inquiry fueled my curiosity for how things work and gave me a sense of fearlessness for delving into the unknown. I developed the core capability of problem-solving that has stuck with me my entire career.”

When she graduated from UNB (as one of only two females in her electrical class), she had seven job offers from different industries but chose Nortel in Ottawa as a digital switching engineer, which played to her strengths. She says it was a great place to begin a career, as Nortel at that time had hired 200 new grads and did a lot of team building projects to grow their collaboration and problem-solving abilities. After three years of building switching platforms and other customer designs, she moved to one of Nortel’s customers, Unitel (later to become AT&T), to be able to use the designs as the end-product. It was here that she helped build out the first ever long-distance networking system in Canada, and she got her first real taste of being on the entrepreneurial side of industry. When local networks became deregulated, she joined MetroNet Communications and built local communication networks for ten cities across Canada from the ground up as their founding VP, Engineering. It was a rewarding experience, but she wanted to gain further knowledge of the strategic business side of technology, and so her next move was to Allstream as VP of Business Development and then VP, Strategic Marketing and Technologies. The roles satisfied her penchant for big-picture thinking and problem solving, as she could work on the whole system as opposed to the elements within it. “I loved designing a system that would deliver something at the end of the day,” says Jones.

While she was at Allstream, she came across a transformational product built by a team out of Israel and again chose to leap into the unknown - to work for the company that created it. But it wasn’t long after that when she was introduced to the CEO of MaRS, who recruited her to develop their advisory practice. “Working every day with entrepreneurs is like being a kid in a candy shop,” Krista recounts. “I had to provide the right services to brilliant and motivated people, and I really got to know the needs of startups.” She moved over to create the organization’s EdTech Cluster and grew it into a large tech-enabled work and learning practice. She works with entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, investors and technologists who are applying innovative and cutting-edge technologies to create solutions that are advancing the competitiveness of global enterprises (encompassing the whole world of enterprise software) and the workforce that fuels them.

She has a passion for keeping up with new trends and working within a “living lab” with a first-hand view of workforce needs. “People are the key to an organization’s success, the same as always,” Krista states. “But the environmental conditions that organizations are operating in are being disrupted. Workers are changing and technologies and new business models are changing the work that needs to be done overnight. In order to survive, companies need to create whole new people structures based upon different skills, tools and processes. The great news is that I’ve seen a growth of entrepreneurs building people-based solutions that use artificial intelligence, machine learning, sensor networks, big and small data, online communities and many other technological advancements to create inclusive, modern, personalized and mobile people-based solutions.”

Krista believes that engineers have an opportunity in this tech-enabled world – there’s a high demand for skilled engineers, coders and designers - but they have to stay ahead of change by constantly developing alternative skills and adapting to change quickly. Long-term success will include creativity, collaboration, system-level thinking and social awareness to solve big problems. She says that these are “skills that women excel in just as much as men, and so we need to increase the number of ‘women who tech’. The number of women in the tech industry has increased but the number who tech and are engineers at their core has not. We need to expose more girls to the possibilities that exist and change how we talk to them about STEM careers. We can enable young women - and men too - to learn social consciousness while learning engineering, which allows them to make a difference in the world.”

Krista has a positive outlook for the future of work for individuals and companies, but it will require a mindset shift. “In the future, we need to trust the intersection between technology and humans.”