Future Friday: If robots do the easy stuff what will we do?

by Michael Haberman on January 16, 2015 · 6 comments

Empathy will be a key skill of future workers

Empathy will be a key skill of future workers

More and more we hear more and more about robots taking work away from humans in the future. Some prognosticators say this will be disastrous for humans, for example,  Elon Musk’s tweet that artificial intelligence may be more dangerous than nuclear weapons. Futurist Ray Kurzweil, on the other hand, is more optimistic. He feels that new jobs will be created to replace the ones lost to robots. But this raises the question, if robots are going to be doing the transactional jobs what jobs will be left? An even bigger question is what skills will be necessary for humans to perform those jobs of the future?

Keeping it human

The key to many jobs in the future will be the human component that robots, as of yet, cannot do. I wrote about this previously in several posts, but especially in Future Friday: Being Human in a Machine Age and in Future Friday: Nine Critical Skills for the Future of HR. At the end of December 2013 writer Darlene Damm wrote Future of Work: What Skills Will Help Us Keep Pace? in which she says technical skills are important it is the “human” skills that are going to be most important in the future. She says these skills “are the changemaking skills of empathy, innovation, new teamwork and new leadership.” She says that while all are important empathy is the most important. “In our increasingly interconnected world, one’s actions have a bigger impact on others and can create tremendous positive or negative outcomes in record time.”

Artificial intelligence

AI is not yet sophisticated enough to make empathetic decisions. An example in HR would be someone with an attendance problem. The rule says six absences and you are terminated. The AI can apply the rule and terminate people without human interaction. What humans are needed for right now, and at least for now, is weighing the reasons for the absences. One employee is a slacker another has a sick child at home. The robot makes no distinction, but the empathetic human can make an exception for the employee with the sick child.

That is a simplistic example and we could program the AI with the rules for exceptions, and we will eventually, but it will be awhile before AI can do it without us or as effectively as we humans in HR.

The future for your children

What training should we be giving children, our future employees? Obviously there should be a continuation of the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) but Damm also recommends teaching children empathy, innovation, new methods of teamwork and new methods of leadership that incorporate empathy. Damm even describes a school that is already working on that curriculum. You can find Damm’s article at SingularityHUB. The article is a bit long, but if you read it also read the comments. People can get pretty heated in discussing this. Damm does a great job of responding to the comments. One such comment summed her point of view quite well and is a good stopping point for my post as well, she said:

First we will see the loss of the repetitive jobs. Those are the jobs that are most easy for robots and artificial intelligence to replace. During that time, humans will be employed for non-repetitive jobs that require innovation. That is why it is important for us to invest in humans learning the changmaking skills right now. In addition, the changemaking skills are not just about being able to perform specific jobs, they are about being able to function in the new way society is organized, given the new technologies.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben Slater January 27, 2015 at 1:19 pm

Interesting article. I’m unsure how reachable true singularity is, but it’s certainly the case that robots/computers will reduce the need for certain professions. I think that new jobs will be created but they will require a higher skill set. An interesting problem for the workforce of the future to solve.


Michael Haberman February 3, 2015 at 10:45 am

Ben, many people are unsure about singularity and whether it is even possible. The reason I write this stuff is that it might be a problem for the future and I want HR people to be aware.


Sam August 5, 2015 at 11:14 am

I am considering pursuing a Master’s in Social Work or Master’s in Public Health in near future. Would you all say these are good fields that will be secure and in demand several decades from now with robots?

Also, what would you all say for jobs like yoga instructors, ESL teachers or anything in Environmental Sustainability?



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