How To Be Human in the Age of A.I.

In recent years, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has increasingly dominated our collective imagination.

Defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks that normally require human intelligence,” the potential benefits of AI are tremendous. A number of decisions, tasks, and processes typically done by people cannot only be executed by computers — but also can be done error-free, more quickly, and more efficiently. It’s no wonder most tech giants are putting large investments into this field.

While AI is ostensibly supposed to free us from recurring and boring administrative work, employee engagement has remained the same for over a decade. And while we can offload a lot of our work to AI, the U.S. is the most overworked developing nation. We still sit through long, inefficient meetings and wish we had more time to get actual work done, so much so we constantly imagine what a world without work would look like.

There will be real negative consequences if we aren’t smart about how we adopt these technologies. A 2013 University of Oxford study estimates that 47 percent of U.S. employment is at risk because of automation. Even Elon Musk, one who is generally optimistic about major developments in technology, thinks AI could be more dangerous than nukes.

Fortunately, the world of work still needs humans. To the point of MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, “We’ve never see a truly creative machine, or an entrepreneurial one.”

Successful adoption of AI will require us to hone in on tasks best done by humans. As organizations continue to adopt AI, what roles will humans play? What human strengths must we play off of?

Four Human Strengths We Need Today

1) Acumen.

Many decisions require insight beyond what AI can bring from data alone. Say for instance, you’re a manager and a direct report of yours sends you a draft of a proposal intended for a client. It’s a well-polished document, but you feel uneasy about it and aren’t sure why. After some discussion, you both conclude there were parts of the proposal that weren’t necessary and decide to boot those parts out. In this instance, you experienced an emotion, understood why you were feeling it, and used that understanding to make a good decision.

Decision-making is more than just applying rules. It’s using discretion, instinct, experience, playfulness, and emotion — all aspects of human judgment.

2) Curiosity.

With fields like Machine Learning and Deep Learning, it’s no secret that AI’s knowledge capabilities are through the roof. Will there soon come a point when AI knows more than people? I don’t know. What we do know is that people have an intense desire to learn. We’re curious. And it’s our curiosity that allows us to foster psychological safety in our organizations, a characteristic effective teams shouldn’t ignore.

3) Creativity.

AI will continue to excel at certain tasks, but this doesn’t mean there isn’t a need for us to be creative. Tackling some of the world’s gnarliest problems takes some serious creativity. If we want to continue to be able to solve these problems, we must embrace a greater appreciation of different skills and perspectives — both of which could be provided by AI and humans.

4) Empathy.

Over and over again, we hear empathy at work is especially important. But empathy is more than a buzzword. Consider the fact that two million trucking jobs are at risk now that automating trucking is happening. Two million. Not to mention the ripple effects of this on our economic ecosystem: think gas stations, motels, and retail outlets. These are possibilities just from self-driving cars — as developments in AI are at an exponential rate, imagine the implications on other jobs.

If you still aren’t convinced about the need for empathy, ponder on the results of this year’s election, and why we voted the way we did. To a lot of people, technology is perceived as dangerous to the economy, and we can’t blame those who view it as such.

AI has some serious economic implications. We need to practice empathy more than ever. It won’t just help us feel more engaged at work, it’s how we’ll make real progress in today’s society.


Who says these four characteristics can’t be automated hundreds of years from now? There are cases made for both sides and we can’t correctly predict the future.

What organizations can do is treat AI as an opportunity to make a positive impact. To a higher degree, we can use it to help reduce burnout, increase engagement, and find more meaning in our work. At best, we can use it to make much-needed progress in our society.


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