Imagine a doctor’s office where diagnostic images were scanned for anomalies not by a doctor, but by a machine. Think about the implications of a marketing application that can determine the emotions of customers based on written reviews. Or how about an onboarding tool that can coach new employees and build customized learning programs based on their personal learning style?
These things aren’t visions of the future. They’re already here. Machines can do a lot of things better, faster and more efficiently than humans can. From back offices to warehouses across the nation, AI solutions are changing the way we work, and we can expect new applications to penetrate even more deeply into the workplace in the future.
We could share innumerable examples, but here are just a few:
- Marketing – Machine learning and artificial intelligence tools can collect data from online behavior, social activity and sentiment analysis (the process of drawing customer opinions about a product or service out of a block of text). This data can be used to predict future behavior, create personalized marketing emails and ads and make product recommendations.
- Manufacturing – AI applications for manufacturing have exploded with possibility. Robots to pick, sort and track supplies in the warehouse, AI-enhanced sensors to monitor equipment and recommend predictive maintenance and AI applications to test and inspect products are just a few of the innovations already changing the face of the manufacturing industry.
- Healthcare – No one wants machines to replace doctors (imagine the terrible bedside manner), but that doesn’t mean AI has no place in healthcare. These applications include more effective diagnostic imaging and screening for certain health conditions, automation for electronic health records, aggregating and analyzing data from multiple sources and assessing data from health records to predict risk.
In all of these cases, AI tools can perform the desired function faster, more efficiently and (in many cases) more accurately than a human could. If that’s the case, then how can today’s workers prepare to remain relevant for the jobs of tomorrow?
Which Skills Are Most Valuable in an AI-Empowered Workplace?
The one thing machines can’t replicate is the essence of being human. They can’t mimic emotions, ethics, creativity, compassion or other uniquely human (i.e., irreplaceable by algorithms) capabilities.
That’s why these skills will remain essential as AI comes of age in the workplace:
Communication – Chatbots notwithstanding, people still want to talk to people, not robots. Person-to-person interactions are essential for building trust, communicating ideas and demonstrating compassion. No one wants a machine to replace a doctor or teacher. Employees don’t want to be managed by a robot. These situations require human empathy and interaction, which is why excellent communication skills are essential for building trust with employees, customers and colleagues.
Innovation – Machines can “learn” and predict, but they can’t create. They can’t come up with new, better solutions to problems, and they can’t reimagine how processes can be upgraded to improve the status quo. Thinking outside the box is a human quality that will be necessary not only for strategic direction, but also for improving the machines themselves. As AI becomes more closely integrated with our work processes, companies will need innovative humans to imagine new ways that software and applications can promote efficiency and productivity.
Soft Skills – Machines excel at automating the parts of our jobs that are repetitive, time-consuming and labor intensive. However, they can’t automate the skills that require human creativity or decision-making. Soft skills such as leadership, ethical judgment, compassion, collaborative teamwork and emotional intelligence will rise to the top as must-have skills in a workplace that has become increasingly dependent on data and algorithms.
Critical Thinking – Critical thinking is the ability to think about a problem from different angles, consider various perspectives and make a reasonable decision based on all of the relevant facts. It requires that a person remain open-minded and that they use good judgment to come to the best solution. Critical thinking is essential for problem solving, ethics and interpersonal interactions. It’s also an important skill for leaders who must be able to determine when a machine should and shouldn’t make decisions for the organization.
Adaptability – As artificial intelligence evolves, successful workers will be those who can adapt quickly to new styles of work and who can work alongside machines effectively. Rather than resenting new technology (“Robots are coming for our jobs!”), adaptable employees will learn how to co-exist with machines and use them to become more effective in their daily work.
Machines Learn. So Should We.
There’s a lot of nervous chatter taking place about whether or not robots will replace humans in the workplace. The truth is that some jobs will become obsolete as AI capabilities expand. Using data and analytics, machines are learning and becoming relentlessly more capable, and that means human jobs will change as well.
But machines aren’t the only ones who should be learning. We can too. Today’s workers have unprecedented access to educational opportunities that help them develop new skills as the jobs around them change. By taking advantage of those opportunities, employees will not only survive in the workforce, but also embrace the opportunities created by technological advances.
In an AI-saturated workplace, we can prepare for the future by nurturing the qualities that make us uniquely human and using those qualities to create better, more innovative solutions.