AI-augmented humanity: Unleashing the power of core skills

By Tamilla Triantoro, co-director of M&T Bank Center for Women and Business October 02, 2023

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Will AI take our jobs? Much of the discourse around AI and job loss tends to conflate task automation with job automation. While it's true that AI has the potential to automate certain tasks, this doesn't equate to entire jobs being eliminated.

Many jobs involve a range of tasks, some of which require distinctly human attributes such as empathy, creative thinking and complex decision-making. These tasks are less likely to be automated and, therefore, many jobs will likely change in nature rather than disappear.

The fear of machines replacing human labor is not new. It dates back to the early days of the Industrial Revolution, with the Luddites vehemently opposing the mechanical loom, which they viewed as a threat to their livelihoods as weavers. Similarly, the Candlemakers' Petition satirically highlights the fear of technological progress making certain jobs obsolete, as the candlemakers humorously demanded the blocking out of the sun to preserve their industry.

Today, we face similar concerns, but the technology in question is far more advanced – it is artificial intelligence. And as the name suggests, it is an “intelligent” application, but can it think and act like a human?

At its core, the difference between humans and machines is the nature of our respective 'learning architectures'. Humans and machines both learn through a transformative process of converting input into output. However, the mechanics, richness and depth of this process vary significantly between humans and machines, leading to profound differences in capabilities such as emotional understanding, social connection, perception of art and decision-making.

Human emotions are complex and multidimensional, stemming from a combination of physiological responses, personal experiences and social contexts. We don't just perceive emotions; we feel and live them. We are inherently social beings. We thrive on connection, empathy and mutual understanding. These connections are built not just through shared experiences but also through shared emotions, body language, cultural nuances and an innate understanding of complex social norms and contexts. We perceive art through emotions and inspirational thoughts resonating from personal experiences and cultural contexts. In contrast, AI's decisions are deterministic and data-driven, hinged on algorithmic interpretation of patterns in vast data pools. They lack intuition and the ability to understand the emotional or broader contextual implications of their decisions.

Historically, we've classified skills into two broad categories: hard and soft. Hard skills, often quantifiable and subject-specific, encompassed skillsets related to programming, data analysis and software proficiency. On the other hand, soft skills - interpersonal skills like empathy, communication, creativity and adaptability, were deemed as secondary complements to the concrete proficiency of hard skills.

In the advent of advanced artificial intelligence, this traditional dichotomy has been disrupted. Machines are increasingly adept at performing tasks previously dependent on human hard skills. The automation of these hard skills has brought about a paradigm shift, where the once 'soft' skills now stand at the forefront of human contribution. These skills, from emotional intelligence and creative problem-solving to adaptability and communication, are integral to areas where humans outperform machines.

A recent report on the Future of Work from McKinsey Global Institute, predicts a significant occupational shift by 2030, impacting up to 12 million jobs. The report suggests that women will be disproportionately affected by these changes and will be 1.5 times more likely to need to move into new occupations than men. Women, however, are often credited with a higher degree of emotional intelligence and a stronger set of 'core' skills, which could become increasingly important in the age of AI.

Navigating the future in a world increasingly shaped by AI does not necessarily mean competing with machines but rather learning to coexist and collaborate with them effectively. A key part of this lies in recognizing and leveraging our unique human strengths focusing on the development of our core skills, particularly those that are distinctly human.

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