Since its inception in June last year, I’ve been following IBM Project Debater – the first AI that can debate humans on complex topics by understanding language well enough to construct and represent a persuasive point of view – with huge interest and anticipation. Just imagine the possibilities!
Earlier this week at IBM’s annual largest client event, THINK 2019, Project Debater faced its highest calibre opponent yet in a public debate. The debate was not about winners or losers. It was about showing how AI digests massive texts, constructs a well-structured speech on a given topic, delivers it with clarity and purpose, and rebuts its opponent…and the performance of the AI was remarkable.
This project has also got me thinking about the future of human skills in this world of AI; in this fourth industrial revolution where some are fearful about what lies ahead. They could argue that here is an example of an AI getting better at something we consider a uniquely human quality – the art of persuasion – a soft skill that is number two on LinkedIn’s Top 5 soft skills most in demand in 2019.
Having studied business psychology, I understand the complexity of human skills like persuasion, creativity, collaboration, adaptability, and time management and that these have to be learned and developed. Yes, AI can augment our intelligence but human decision and action, underpinned by soft skills requiring emotional intelligence, will continue to be important.
I don’t believe the art of human persuasion is dead. Far from it. In fact, why Project Debater really excites me is because it shows the power of man and machine combining their skills to make better and well-informed decisions; the key goal of the project.
As Dr Noam Slonim, one of the primary researchers behind the project commented after the debate:
“Ultimately, what we saw was that the interaction of man and machine could be enriching for both. It’s not a question of one being better than the other, but about AI and humans working together.”
However, I do recognise that AI is changing our jobs, industries and professions. Project Debater is a pertinent reminder that we need to continue investing in ourselves and the skills that make us uniquely human; that will differentiate us in a world where we’ll be working with machines. So, how can you best develop these ‘on the job’? Here are my top tips based on my own experience:
Embrace the fear and take on new challenges
You need to continually push your limits, go outside your comfort zone, take calculated risks and be open to change. That’s how you develop skills like resiliency and adaptability and continue to learn new things about yourself. I’ve always been attracted to the complex and difficult – the rubic cubes rather than shiny space ships – and the soft skills I’ve learnt along the way, along with the knowledge I’ve accumulated about the complex dynamics of many industries, have enabled me to work in a number of sectors.
Ensure you are taking a cross-generational view
Different generations bring different soft skills. It is so important that we learn from each other as we all bring skills that are important to the future of work. This is why my AP leadership team is involved in a cross-generational six-month mentoring project with young professionals within IBM. I can’t wait to see how much the group learns from each other.
Relationships, relationships, relationships
The fundamentals of great communication and collaboration skills are relationships. It’s so important that your relationships are broad and diverse. Surround yourself by people who challenge you, who you can learn from and who are different from you. Build a diverse and inclusive network and nurture it.
Finally, we also need to continue investing in our understanding of how the technological advancements being made in areas like AI, digitization and cloud are shaping the world around us. We need to use our human skill of curiosity to ensure we are informed; this is fundamental to us working effectively with AI.
I hope these tips are useful. As you look ahead to a world where 100% of jobs will change, what are the human skills you believe will be most important and why, and what advice do you have on developing them?