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The one thing machines can’t do better than us: Be human

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The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the news of its potential to replace humans in the workplace has inundated the newsreels recently.

The World Economic Forum has predicted that, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to transform markets, up to five million jobs will be lost by 2020. And, according to the McKinsey Global Institute, it is anticipated that up to 160 million women will be impacted by automation, and may need to change occupation by 2030.

Repetitive manufacturing tasks and ones considered dangerous for humans to perform are likely to be the first ‘casualties’. Robots perform these tasks with more precision and speed than humans ever could, and this means higher productivity and lower costs, which is the main goal of any manufacturer.

However, machines need to be programmed to know what to do, and we still need humans to program – and operate – them.

As machines churn out more and more data, we will need humans to create smarter, more effective robots to make sense of this information. The future won’t have factories without humans, but rather a more efficient, safer environment where machines augment the skills and abilities of people, increasing output and reducing room for error or injury. 

What happens now?

Where does that leave us humans who don’t know how to code or optimise robotics?

Ironically, we’re being forced to focus on our human skills and attributes, which robots are yet to replicate or improve. As robots become more prevalent in the workplace, people will crave human interaction, connection, and authenticity more than ever before.

As the repetitive, time-consuming back-office jobs go to the machines, humans will be able to concentrate on people-focused core tasks, like customer experience and social interaction.

Managers will have more time to interact productively with team members, and colleagues will have more time to speak to customers and determine their needs. HR will have time to focus on upskilling staff rather than spending hours on time-consuming tasks like onboarding and payroll processes.

When people understand and relate better, they come up with new solutions, products, and ways of doing things. It causes us to create and innovate.

Skills like emotional intelligence, strategy, communication, people management, stakeholder interactions, creativity, entrepreneurship, leadership, analysis, and decision-making will grow in demand across all industries.

Growth mindset

The UAE government has taken a proactive step to stay head of the curve, and in 2017 became the first nation with a Cabinet minister dedicated to AI. It also launched a national strategy for AI.

Everyone has a role to play in making the future workplace work.

Governments, organisations, and individuals will need to embrace a culture of upskilling and learning. Low-skilled or back-office position staff will need to be retrained to equip them with future-proof skills, especially highly sought-after soft skills like emotional intelligence.

We will need to grab every opportunity we can to upskill, learn, and develop ourselves. Our freedom of choice is another trait the machines cannot take – and we all need to choose to proactively seek out free online training, and to make ourselves irreplaceable.

While the reality that automation will impact every job in some way exists, it will not necessarily replace them. The impact will be the ability to do our jobs increasingly faster and better, giving us more time to grow and discover what is really behind the elusive work-life balance. Ultimately, we will have more time to be human.

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