Self-driving cars, AI, Quantum computing and customer service algorithms are just some of the exciting automated technologies that are transforming our world. But automation is also revolutionising our workplaces, and according to a report by McKinsey Global Institute, robots could replace up to 800 million jobs by 2030.
How can humans survive the rise of automation? By nurturing the soft skills that robots can’t fully replicate; the qualities, personal attributes and social skills that make us uniquely human.
Read on as we explore six key soft skills that will future proof your career prospects and enable you to thrive in an automated world.
According to an Oxford University study, these jobs have a 99% risk of disappearing due to automation:
According to the study, these jobs have just a 0.4% risk of disappearing:
As automation becomes more sophisticated, some jobs will survive while others will completely disappear. Even If your job does survive, you may find that some of the more repetitive technical tasks become automated, allowing you to focus on more stimulating aspects of your role.
For example, while computers are excellent at inputting data, humans are still responsible for making sense of it. Humans will also be needed to train chatbots, repair robots and fix automated systems if they go wrong.
This happened recently when American facial recognition systems based on machine learning tech failed to accurately read African-American faces. It took several human researchers to discover that the tech had failed because darker skin tones had been underrepresented in the training data used to create the algorithms.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution will also create many brand new jobs that will be defined by our uniquely human qualities. In fact, A 2017 study by the Institute for the Future estimated that up to 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet.
As well as requiring creativity, people skills and a desire to continue learning, these jobs will require cognitive flexibility, which is our brain’s ability to switch between different rules or action plans depending on the context. To do this, our brains have to hold multiple sets of rules in mind, so that it can switch to the right one when it’s needed.
Research carried out by Professor Michael Halassa, showed that part of the brain called the thalamus enables humans to excel at learning many different kinds of tasks. In contrast, neural networks (a type of artificial intelligence) are only usually good at learning one thing. Based on interconnected nodes similar to neurons, the networks experience what Halassa describes as “a phenomenon called catastrophic forgetting-when they try to learn a new task, previous tasks become overwritten.”
Effective communication is essential when it comes to managing projects, collaborating with colleagues, negotiating, problem-solving and building relationships with customers. While meetings and presentations obviously require excellent verbal communication skills, a lot of business developments take place away from these formal situations in bars, cafes and restaurants.
Chatbots might be improving, but they can’t replicate the human ability to distinguish between formal and informal contexts or to hold carefully nuanced and culturally sensitive conversations. Nor can they convey information compellingly, using emotion and empathy in a way that stirs people to act.
Active listening skills are just as important as the ability to speak eloquently, particularly if you’re involved with negotiating, managing workplace conflict and asking relevant questions. And if you’re working with culturally diverse colleagues or customers, you’ll also need to be extra sensitive with your non-verbal communication. For example, in Greece, Italy and the Middle East the seemingly innocent thumbs up gesture is considered to be extremely offensive.
LinkedIn’s Global Talent Trends Report found that
of people think soft skills will become increasingly important to the success of an organisation as jobs become more automated.
According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, as AI develops the hard skills required for the more informative aspects of leadership, the softer, more human elements will become increasingly valued. The authors of the article describe these leadership skills as, “the personality traits, attitudes and behaviours that allow individuals to help others achieve a common goal or shared purpose.”
Such qualities are essential in leadership, as humans have a habit of becoming demotivated and distracted. They need inspiring leaders with a positive attitude; leaders who can reawaken a sense of purpose and keep teams focused on their company’s vision.
Leading a team of employees requires tact, critical thinking, diplomacy, the ability to delegate and excellent judgement. Leaders have to learn how to read a room, how to provide reassurance and how to defuse tricky situations when conflict resolution is needed. All of these things require a human touch which simply cannot be automated.
4. Creativity and Imagination
While AI makes logical inferences based on existing data, human creativity involves building something from a completely new idea. It’s intuitive, imaginative and definitely not programmable! Despite this, there have been some amusing attempts to use AI creatively.
Back in 2017, research scientist Janelle Shane decided to train a neural network to generate new paint colours along with an appropriate title for each one. The resulting names were certainly interesting! There was a greenish brown shade called Clardic Fug, a light grey shade called Sindis Poop and a purplish grey colour called Sane Green.
If you find these paint colour creations amusing, you might want to check out a web application called InspiroBot. Created by a Norwegian coder Peder Jorgenson, InspiroBot uses AI to generate macros that feature an attractive image and an inspirational quote. Many of the quotes are bizarre and they often clash comically with their matching image. For example, the very first InspiroBot image featured an image of a goldfish along with the quote: “What is sane to an artist is insane to an idiot.”
Neural networks like the one that produced Janelle’s colour creator are also responsible for powering the internet connected devices in your home. Based on algorithms, they’re made up of calculations that find every pattern within the data they gobble. However, these networks are notoriously bad at predicting when patterns will change and they can’t connect unrelated patterns or choose which patterns are meaningful. People seem to be uniquely gifted at creating connections in order to produce something truly original. For this reason, many scientists believe that human creativity will remain unrivaled.
According to the Office of National Statistics around
UK jobs are at high risk of some of their duties and tasks being automated in the future.
There’s a reason why physicians, nursery teachers and occupational therapists don’t have to worry about losing their jobs to workplace automation. According to the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, machines will never fully understand humans because “we are not thinking machines that feel; rather, we are feeling machines that think.”
While a smart machine might have the technical skills to diagnose a medical condition and even suggest treatment, it can’t respond to human emotion with empathy or communicate bad news with compassion.
In the world of business, a machine can recommend improvements and recognise problems but it can’t motivate employees to take action or identify individuals with the potential to lead change. Even in supermarkets, bars and coffee shops, many people still prefer to experience human interaction, despite having to queue for the privilege!
6. Emotional Intelligence
Have you ever met someone who is academically brilliant but finds the social side of life impossible? If you have, you can be pretty sure that their IQ was higher than their emotional Intelligence (EQ).
The Cambridge Dictionary describes emotional intelligence as “the ability to understand the way people feel and react and to use this skill to make good judgements and to avoid or solve problems.” Developing your EQ will help you manage your emotions and interact more effectively with your colleagues, reducing the chances of conflict. But is emotional intelligence unique to the human race or can our interpersonal skills be replicated by a robot?
Software expert Naveen Joshi recently stated that “infusing emotions into AI is the next goal for technologists”, but he also admitted that the most advanced AI technologies lack EQ because they can’t contextualise information. So while chatbots and mobile apps may soon be able to recognise and respond to emotions like anger and frustration, they’re not likely to replace genuine human interaction. As Mark Williams of People First puts it, “robots…can only pretend to build relationships, empathize or show other forms of emotional intelligence to create personal connections with people.”
Automation is transforming workplaces in all industries, from aviation to customer service. But this isn’t a takeover, as there will always be plenty of scope for humans and machines to work alongside each other. Embrace technological developments and you should find that your working life becomes more enjoyable, creative and intellectually satisfying. In the meantime, we recommend developing your soft skills and wearing them with pride.