What skills will be required in a future where artificial intelligence will penetrate more and more areas of human activity?
Our daily experience with recommenders who don’t get a single one right, or chatbots that are capable of unsettling the most patient of consumers, can make us doubt what is sometimes very pompously advertised as artificial intelligence.
Currently, many applications that fall under the heading of artificial intelligence are based on algorithms created by a team of programmers who offer crude, imprecise solutions that reproduce, albeit systematically, very human patterns and biases. In other words, it is an artificial intelligence that is neither intelligent nor artificial. However, it is clear that progress in technologies linked to machine learning, combined with other information acquisition technologies thanks to artificial vision or natural language processing, will very quickly change our future in general and, in particular, the future of the labour market and the role of people in organisations.
Experience in industry, with the widespread replacement of mechanical and repetitive jobs by robots, may lead us to think that artificial intelligence will affect lower-cost and lower-training jobs, but will respect those that require high training and are better paid.
We believe that, for example, a surgeon or an engineer whose skills have required many years of study and applied work will be safe from the next wave of changes that information technologies will bring to the labour market.
However, the thousand-million-dollar waiter may not have as much reason to worry about being replaced by a machine as the radiologist specialising in tumour detection or the engineer specialising in maintenance, who are paid much higher salaries and have required high and expensive training to be able to do their jobs.
After all, moving swiftly between tables, listening to customers’ requests on the fly (or pretending not to hear them), and serving the orders that pile up with a certain empathy, do not seem to be skills that are easy to reproduce by a machine. If, until now, training in specialised technical knowledge (hard skills) played a very important role in the value that a person contributed to the organisation, the irruption of artificial intelligence in more and more areas of human activity will lead to the need to balance this with the acquisition and strengthening of the so-called soft skills.
There are different definitions of what soft skills are, but in general they all include aspects that have to do with our ability to face and solve problems in teams, communicating effectively, adapting dynamically to changes and generating mutual recognition that gratifies and generates intrinsic motivation in people.
Interestingly, these skills are very similar to those described by historians such as Yuval Noah Harari in early human groups of hunter-gatherers prior to the Neolithic revolution. It is these more human, hard-to-describe capabilities related to social skills, communication, empathy and emotional intelligence that will be of central importance in a future scenario where it will be necessary to counterbalance the power brought by artificial intelligence to put technology at the service of people, not people at the service of technology.
In this sense, leadership will be exercised by people who balance a necessary degree of technical knowledge with soft skills that allow them to maintain a positive attitude and not feel overwhelmed in an increasingly fragile, uncertain and complex environment, as well as to apply critical and moral thinking that maintains a perspective of what is right or desirable and that can moderate the desire to achieve a goal at all costs.