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New Skills required to Collaborate with Cognitive Tech Co-workers

April 19, 2018


There was only nervous laughter, reports Andrew Kucheriavy (@ky4ep), Founder and CEO of Intechnic, when Sophia, a humanoid robot powered by artificial intelligence (AI), told 60,000 participants at the latest Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal, “We will take your jobs.”[1] Sophia joins a chorus of other voices warning members of the current workforce their jobs are at risk. How alarmed should the workforce be? New technologies have historically resulted in job losses as machines mastered tasks once the sole province of human laborers only to create more, better paying, jobs. Here’s another bit of good news: Many analysts predict the future will be one characterized by human/machine collaboration rather than a future characterized by massive unemployment.


Human/machine collaboration in the workplace


As noted above, machines have historically “replaced” humans when introduced into the workplace. So why are so many pundits now predicting a future in which humans and machines collaborate? Deloitte Consulting principals, Anthony Abbatiello and Jeff Schwartz, along with their colleague Sharon Chand, a principal at Deloitte & Touche, explain advances in AI are still a ways from mastering most human skills.[2] They write, “Intelligent automation is marching steadily toward wider adoption, yet despite some sky-is-falling predictions, robotics, cognitive, and artificial intelligence technologies are unlikely to displace most human workers. Rather, in the near future, human workers and machines will likely work together, complementing each other’s efforts in a single loop of productivity. Emerging intelligent solutions offer opportunities to automate some repetitive low-level tasks but, perhaps more importantly, may augment human performance. This could free up individuals to focus on more ‘human’ aspects of work that require empathic problem-solving abilities, social skills, and emotional intelligence.”


Most analysts agree humans need to adapt their skill sets and their mindsets to work with cognitive machines. Some analysts insist machines must also adapt. For example, James Guszcza (@JamesGuszcza), U.S. chief data scientist at Deloitte Consulting, asserts, “At a business level, AI projects often fail to deliver desired outcomes because they are not designed to promote smart adoption by human users. Human-centered design of AI algorithms is therefore crucial.”[3] At Enterra Solutions®, we prefer to think of cognitive technologies as augmenting human performance. That mindset means every solution is designed with a human collaborator in mind, starting with the incorporation of natural language processing. As Guszcza concludes, “Smart technologies are unlikely to engender smart outcomes unless they are designed to promote smart adoption on the part of human end users. Successful applications of AI hinge on more than big data and powerful algorithms — human-centered design is also crucial.” He’s correct; but, that’s a topic for another article. In this article, I want to discuss the human side of collaboration.


Re-skilling the workforce for human/machine collaboration


There can be little doubt the future business landscape will be populated by firms employing both humans and cognitive machines. Sooraj Shah (@Sooraj_Shah) reports, “In a survey by software company Pegasystems, which polled almost 400 senior executives across financial services, insurance, manufacturing, telecoms and media, public sector and retail, about their views on the increased role that artificial intelligence and automation in the workplace. The vast majority of respondents — 86 per cent — said they were comfortable with the introduction of machine ‘co-workers’ into the workplace, and more than two thirds (67 per cent) said that in the years to come they would expect the term ‘workforce’ to cover both intelligent machines and their human colleagues.”[4]


As noted above, this new work environment will require humans to master new skills to remain relevant. Riia O’Donnell reports, “Two new reports — released by Cornerstone OnDemand and Institute for the Future — identify the urgent skills workers must master today to distinguish themselves and survive the workplace of tomorrow.”[5] She continues, “One, Get Fit for What’s Next, identifies 15 ‘super skills’ workers will need. … The other, Navigating the Skills Economy, suggests that business is at a critical point and that creating a culture of learning is now a ‘change or die’ moment for organizations. The report recommends three actions for employers: design a culture of learning; empower employees to take initiative; and deliver fresh, modern content.” Sandra Upson asks an extremely relevant question, “What does the right training look like? Among those with a stake in that question are big tech companies, which face growing discontent over their impact on public discourse, democracy, and shaping children’s minds. … The future of work and the future of education are converging. But these efforts must overcome a long history of failed training programs. … Historically, the most successful training programs were run by companies themselves, who would teach new hires what they needed before settling recruits into an official role.”[6] Today, she notes, more often than not, training is outsourced to others. If we are going to meet the training and re-skilling needs of today’s employees, all stakeholders from public institutions to private corporations need to be involved.


What skills are needed?


Since we are talking about jobs that have yet to be created, identifying the skills needs to fill those jobs is problematic. The Institute for the Future report mentioned above, notes, “Each peak performance zone will demand super skills — not just simple skills like reading and searching or writing and texting — but skills that help you put all those basics together to touch the world, to influence it, shape it and make a difference in it. These are the skills that will help you learn and earn, eat well and play hard, create beauty and find awe in the world around you. They are the skills that will turn who you are today into who you want to be tomorrow.” Those super skills include:


1. Learning to brand yourself

2. Understanding the value of all your education and experience

3. Feeling comfortable in multi-disciplinary work environments

4. Being familiar with artificial intelligence technologies

5. Mastering digital skills like coding

6. Using technologies like virtual and augmented reality

7. Accepting you may have to move through a series of jobs to succeed

8. Fostering leadership skills so you can head up projects

9. Keeping yourself open to new technologies yet to be developed

10. Enhancing your communication skills across all sources of media

11. Imagining possible futures to guide your actions

12. Surrendering your resistance to change

13. Embracing risks with those around you

14. Incorporating ethics and honesty in every situation

15. Ensuring you have an empathetic attitude in times of crisis

Taken in total, those super skills help prepare you for a future characterized by human/machine collaboration. A future in which technology is a tool rather than the master. They keep you open to new possibilities and new opportunities. Upson concludes, “Automation will have a big impact on the workplace, but robots are not going to take all the jobs.” With the right skills, humans will flourish in the jobs that remain as well as in those jobs yet to be created.


[1] Andrew Kucheriavy, “Artificial Intelligence Will Take Your Job: What You Can Do Today To Protect It Tomorrow, Forbes, 26 February 2018.
[2] Anthony Abbatiello, Jeff Schwartz, and Sharon Chand, “Humans and Machines Team Up in the No-Collar Workforce,” The Wall Street Journal, 5 March 2018.
[3] James Guszcza, “Smarter Together: Bring Human-Centered Design to AI,” The Wall Street Journal, 21 March 2018.
[4] Sooraj Shah, “Senior business executives welcome introduction of AI ‘co-workers’ – report,” Computing, 18 January 2018.
[5] Riia O’Donnell, “Change or die: 15 skills your workers need to survive tech’s disruption,” HR Dive, 6 March 2018.
[6] Sandra Upson, “Tech Companies try to Train the Workers They’re Displacing,” Wired, 16 March 2018.

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