Over Christmas I watched the “Back to the Future” movie marathon, and couldn’t help but wonder – did the writers, Zemeckis and Gale, have any idea that some of their far-fetched, tech predictions in the 80’s would actually come to fruition in 2015? How did they know that drones, fingerprint recognition, hands-free gaming consoles and video glasses would all exist today?

Technology is moving at an incredibly rapid rate, and with Artificial Intelligence driving this movement, no one is completely sure what to expect next!

What is Artificial Intelligence?

In the past, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been an exciting concept that people only dreamed about, but recently, it’s become a topic of conversation that saturates newspapers, the internet and social media. AI is a computer system that is capable of doing tasks that humans need intelligence to do themselves. If enough data is inputted into these systems, computers can learn and complete tasks as well as humans – if not better.

People are already using AI every day. Have you ever asked Siri a question on your iPhone? Like, “where’s the closest “petrol station?” or “what does my calendar look like tomorrow?” The robotic voice communicating back to you is in fact – AI. Even a simple recommendation by Spotify or Netflix of something you might like, is based on data accumulated from your previous choices, all through artificial intelligence.

What does this mean for jobs?

As a Recruiter in technology, I’m fascinated by the incredible success stories of AI projects and the concept of what can/ will be achieved. But I am also exposed to candidates who don’t share the same fascination – and instead, are intimidated about the possibility that automation could in fact, one day replace their jobs. With fear that automation will eliminate incomes and thus, the ability to afford basic needs for survival, people like Tesla’s own co-founder and CEO, Elon Musk, describe the invasion of AI as potentially, “the biggest risk we face as a civilisation”. This has created fear in candidates that AI might not only cause unemployment, but cause humans to eventually become unemployable.

I disagree.

AI vs. EI

Call me old fashioned, but I am a firm believer that humans are incredible and special beings, with capabilities that robots cannot replicate or understand – and that includes in the workplace. In fact, to those candidates who question their worth next to AI, I often ask them to tell me 3 things that their future employer is buying from them if they employ over a robot, and the result is the same – candidates will list their soft skills.

While hard skills, or job-specific skills, are typically quantifiable and can potentially be learned by AI, soft skills include personal attributes, personality and communication and are much harder to learn. By lacking these soft skills, robots continue to be limited in their ability to replace human jobs. Research has found that humans are still better than robots in identifying new patterns, logical reasoning, creativity, conscientiousness, as well as identifying, responding and displaying emotions.

Employers will forever value Emotional Intelligence (EI) in workers, which is why there is a resistance to the AI takeover. Think about a role where human touch or EI is involved. While automating check outs at a grocery store might not challenge our sense of trust, would you feel as comfortable about a robotic surgeon completing heart surgery on you, compared with a human surgeon? Maybe not? Or, how would you feel if a robotic Psychologist consulted you about a mental health condition you may have? Possibly not so supported. The point is, if an occupation requires trust, empathy, human touch or emotional intelligence (to name a few), soft skills are irreplaceable.

What’s next?

And so, the AI debate continues about whether in future; will it replace us, co-exist with us or merge with us. In terms of the workplace – there is no guarantee of what occupations will be automated, but what I can be confident in, is that children entering primary school today, will more than likely, be in occupations that don’t even currently exist. Who knows – they might be building (or supporting) a back-to-the-future time machine (I wonder if Zemeckis and Gale can share some Intel!)! The only advice I can give to anyone worried about whether AI will impact their jobs, is to grow and develop your soft skills every day. Be something that a robot can never be – an emotionally intelligent human!

Ashleigh Jones – Consultant

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