Future Friday: Will “Human skills” be enough in the future?

This is not a battle that man will win, the human needs to be more human.

Fast Company magazine published an article titled 5 Myths about the future of work that you need to stop believing. These include:

  1. YOU NEED TO BE A QUICK LEARNER TO SUCCEED- It is not really the speed at which you learn something, it is whether you master the skill or not that is important. 
  2. IF YOU WANT TO DO SOMETHING INNOVATIVE, YOU HAVE TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR OR WORK AT A STARTUP- Small does not necessarily equate to innovative. Larger companies innovate all the time.
  3. YOU NEED TO LEARN TO CODE- It never hurts to learn code, but much is being done today that does not necessitate learning how to code. The important thing is learning how to think computationally. 
  4. AUTOMATION IS BAD FOR WORKERS- Automation may be bad for some jobs, but it will also create many jobs too.
  5. A HUMANITIES EDUCATION IS POINTLESS- To the contrary, as I wrote in the blog post that is reprinted below, the human side of us may be more important than ever.

I and others have written about the necessity of keeping the “human” component in the jobs of the future. That is going to be the only way to preserve work for humans as artificial intelligence advances. I wrote about this in Future Friday: Why it will be important for jobs to be more “Human”, but recently I wonder if this will be enough to maintain work as we know it. It may not be.

Human skills

Futurist Graeme Codrington, strategy consultant at TomorrowToday Global, writes in an article about the same concerns. Codrington writes that machines are already better at a lot of jobs and getting better all the time. He says:

We are about a decade away from computers becoming more intelligent than we are, although they can already do many parts of our jobs better, faster and cheaper than we can now. This doesn’t mean we expect an army of sentient machines to invade our workplaces. Instead, slowly at first, and then increasingly bit by bit, our jobs will be eroded as machines do more and more of what we do today.

Another author suggests that work as we know it will stop and humans will be left to doing work that is fulfilling but not necessarily productive. Giles Broadbent says:

The concept of “work” may have to change altogether with productivity and GDP a matter for the machines. What is left could be something more human, co-operative and rewarding all paid for by a “universal basic income” which will surely move from the wild reaches of economic fantasy to the central goal of any progressive regime.

I don’t think we are at the stage of everyone being “artsy and craftsy” and deriving their income from that government or industry being taxed to provide a universal basic income. Codrington, however, is spot on with his advice by pointing out the skills that humans will need to be relevant in a future world. His list is:

  1. Creativity and ingenuity. It will yet be a while, so we think, before machines will get to this point.
  2. Sense-making. Machines are great at producing data but are not all that good at determining what that data means. However, they will get there.
  3. Unstructured problem-solving. Machines need rules, people can operate without them.
  4. Common sense. Common sense can be rule-based, but as the saying goes “common sense” is not all that common.
  5. Ethics and morals. Choices are not always obvious. There are subtleties often necessary that machine code cannot handle. As Codrington says: An intelligent machine’s ‘moral code’ is only as good as the data it receives from humans – it doesn’t have metacognitive awareness itself.
  6. Identifying errors. Since machines are coded by humans it is humans who will have to identify the errors, at least for many years to come.
  7. Empathy, love, care, and compassion. This is the most human of these skills. Not all humans are very good at this, as we have spent decades turning workers into machines. Many will have to relearn these skills. But as Codrington says “The human touch is indispensable for most jobs…”

Let’s hope

Let’s hope that human skills will be able to sustain people in their jobs and will be enough. I think the human condition includes a big dose of work and not just self-fulfilling endeavors supported by the estate.

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