AI still needs that human touch

Every revolution comes with costs – what’s important is how we adapt to change
By Angela Payne
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/01/2018

Recently, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has taken heat from other technology luminaries for doomsday predictions when it comes to unbridled artificial intelligence (AI).

“AI is a fundamental, existential risk for human civilization,” said Musk, before adding it will cause massive job disruption because robots “will be able to do everything better than us.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called Musk “pretty irresponsible” and pointed to AI benefits such as helping diagnose diseases and eliminating motor vehicle accidents and deaths in the future.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates said robots offer great benefits in the near term, but agreed with Musk there is potential for alarm in the long term if AI develops a “super intelligence” beyond humans.

On the dire side: Almost half of today’s jobs are “potentially automatable” within two decades, according to Oxford University.

Five million jobs worldwide will be eliminated before 2020, according to the World Economic Forum.

And robots and AI will kill 16 per cent of jobs and create only nine per cent more for a net loss of seven per cent of North America by 2025, according to Forrester Research.

On the sunny side: A study of 140 years of census material finds technology has created more jobs than it destroyed since 1871, and there’s been a sharp decline in the number of hard, dangerous and dull jobs because of technology, according to Deloitte.

So, depending on whom you believe, AI over the next 20 years — or about the lifespan of a cat — is either a human job eliminator or a creator of new types of work that humans can excel at, while giving robots the mundane, low-value tasks.

While I prefer to be optimistic, there is only one sure thing: An AI revolution has already begun and will pick up speed each year.

AI is a part of our everyday lives — from making suggestions for dinner recipes to keeping an eye on our credit card spending patterns to reducing fraud in its simplest form.

Every revolution comes with costs. Jobs will be eliminated and people will be displaced.

What’s important is how each of us handles and adapts to the change.

No job or profession is robot-proof. The question is not which jobs will be most impacted, but how do we build on AI’s benefits to enhance our livelihoods?

Employees who succeed and thrive will be those who leverage their fundamental human traits such as empathy, trust, humour and relationship-building.

Successful businesses have always needed the human touch, and that’s true even more so now. Take the example of more than a decade ago when handheld computing and communications devices were using a stylus to point and click.

Then Apple CEO Steve Jobs famously told his engineers that humans already have the best possible stylus: Their fingers. The iPhone was born and the world changed.

It’s this type of human thinking that AI will have difficulty replicating.

It’s also why I disagree with the dictum that liberal arts became irrelevant in the digital age. The arts and humanities teach students to think widely and critically.

“It’s STEAM, no longer STEM,” said Paul Barter, an author and lecturer on technology strategies at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto.

“You’ve got to add arts and humanities to science, technology, engineering and math.”

“We need both types: The science geeks and the artsies.”

A case can be made that those possessing critical thinking skills will be least impacted by AI because robots operate on strict rules and algorithms.

For example, many companies already use AI in the hiring process to find candidates by using technologies to search databases.

These sourcing methods use algorithms based on current staff. They identify people who look a lot like current employees.

Instead of finding people to complement current capabilities and move the company forward, AI instead builds a pre-defined culture of sameness that can’t anticipate future needs.

That’s why human resource and talent acquisition professionals will still be needed to make human choices to discourage sameness and find new — and even disrupt — pools of qualified candidates.

AI can be incredibly useful, but if it’s used without complementing human awareness, it can be detrimental.

We need humans to think creatively and abstractly about problems to devise new and innovative strategies, test out different approaches, and look to the future for upcoming challenges and opportunities.

We need to be sure we aren’t using algorithms to replicate a past that does not meet the needs of the future.

Angela Payne is the Toronto-based senior vice-president and general manager for Canada at Monster. For more information, visit www.monster.ca.

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