Soft Skills in a Software-Driven World
Our journey to revolutionize business with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) has given rise to what we now call the “intelligent enterprise.” This means that machines will increasingly take over the tasks that they do best. Luckily for us, those tasks are mostly repetitive, mundane, and dreary. Stuff we probably didn’t want to be doing in the first place: booking flights, scheduling meetings, recognizing patterns in enormous pools of data, and similarly tedious chores. What’s much more interesting – and here is where humans are still needed – is deciding where to fly, what to talk about in that meeting, and what to do with the insights from those data patterns.
Way back in 2014, Marc Andreesen wrote in his blog, “…even when robots and AI are far more powerful, there will still be many things that people can do that robots and AI can’t. For example: creativity, innovation, exploration, art, science, entertainment, and caring for others. We have no idea how to make machines do these.” Four years later, his prediction still rings true. Speaking at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Fabiola Gianotti, a particle physicist and the Director General of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (more commonly known as CERN) stated, “We need to break the cultural silos. Too often people put science and the humanities, or science and the arts, in different silos. They are the highest expression of the curiosity and creativity of humanity.” So, yes, the “hard” skills often associated with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are and will continue to be very important. But, to do well in an AI-powered future, what will be more important than ever is that which makes us uniquely human; soft skills (communication, team work, creative thinking, etc.) will be more highly sought-after than ever in the workplace. After all, those are the areas in which humans continue to beat machines hands down.
Easy for kids, hard for machines
Moravec’s paradox tells us that the things that come easy to us are hard to reverse engineer, but the things that are hardest for us are the easiest to artificially emulate. As Hans Morovac, an early pioneer and researcher in robotics and AI, wrote in his 1988 book, Mind Children, “it is comparatively easy to make computers exhibit adult level performance on intelligence tests or playing checkers, and difficult or impossible to give them the skills of a one-year-old when it comes to perception and mobility.” That presents an interesting prospect for a symbiotic relationship between humans and machines, each compensating for the other’s weakness and benefiting from the other’s strengths. SAP’s CEO, Bill McDermott, referred to this potential as “augmented humanity” in his blog, Machines Can’t Dream. I couldn’t agree more with Bill’s exhortation, “Only when we dream big can we rise to our full human potential.”
As leaders, we must seize this opportunity to not only capitalize on human strengths, but celebrate and reward them in our workforce as well. I believe that both software and soft skills have a bright future in the intelligent enterprise.
My next blog, The ‘Emotional’ Enterprise, will look at how natural language processing and immersive experiences (AR, VR, etc.) promise to make the “intelligent enterprise” a more human-friendly place to work.