Why AI is an opportunity, not a threat, for the future of work

2 days ago

Image: © besjunior/Stock.adobe.com

We speak to BearingPoint manager Róisín O’Coineen about the impact of AI on the workplace and how organisations should respond to its advancement.

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While there is an ongoing debate around whether artificial intelligence will lead to human advancement or extinction, one thing is for sure – the world of work is set to be radically changed in the coming years.

Millions of jobs across the globe, both physically and mentally demanding work, are set to be either made easy or redundant with the use of AI as the technology continues to advance in realms previously dominated only by humans.

For Róisín O’Coineen, a manager at BearingPoint, the impact of AI on the future of work is a positive one. According to her, the rapid evolution of technology is nothing new.

“Just think of the radical transformation of the world of work since the widespread adoption of the Internet,” she tells SiliconRepublic.com. “AI is another step on this transformation and the pace of change due to technological innovation is continuing to accelerate.”

Early days of AI

O’Coineen works with the people and strategy team of the business and technology consultancy firm based in Dublin. At BearingPoint, she is interested in organisational learning, change and culture, and helping organisations and their employees be resilient in the face of change.

“We are still in the early days of the development of AI technology, but if current trends continue it seems likely that human discernment and human interactions will become increasingly central to the role of humans in the workplace,” she explains.

“I see a reduction in the need for people to do rote or standardised tasks because of the increase in automation and machine learning, so that people will increasingly focus on the more personalised activities such as managing the tech itself, driving change, and as an escalation point for exceptions or more complicated scenarios.”

Interested in human behaviour and learning, O’Coineen worked on programme design at the Irish Management Institute before joining BearingPoint. She has also previously been a market researcher working with clients to understand customer behaviour and experience.

“I come at this topic from an organisational learning and human behaviour lens, drawing on learning from those who know more about AI than I do,” she goes on.

Focusing on uniquely human qualities

So, what are some human skills that people need to prioritise in the age of AI? O’Coineen thinks the answer lies in viewing the technology as a productivity enhancement tool that gets work done faster but cannot work independently.

She identifies three core roles that are crucial to any workplace which cannot be performed by AI. First, interacting with AI itself. Second, working with other people. And finally, innovation.

“AI needs direction, prompting and oversight to deliver value for organisations and to ensure ethical application. No longer a purely technical role, this is increasingly something that people across industries are seeing the benefit from,” O’Coineen explains.

Individuals or organisations who are not currently using AI may find themselves “falling behind competitors” if they do not start to develop this capability, she notes.

“Other key human skills for managing AI include critical thinking, discernment and analysis to have good understanding and judgement of the results AI produces.”

Uniquely human attributes such as developing relationships through collaboration and communication are also here to stay, according to O’Coineen, particularly as people rise in their careers and are required to lead, motive and support their colleagues.

“At the centre of this is emotional intelligence, or EQ, which is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions as well as using this to understand and influence your interactions with others,” she says.

“The development of EQ and interpersonal skills should be a key priority for individuals to develop and for organisations to promote.”

Staying competitive

Last but not least, O’Coineen identifies innovation as a human quality that AI cannot replicate, even as she describes the technology as “the most powerful plagiarism tool that has ever been invented”.

“It can write you a new poem in the style of Emily Dickenson or fool you with a picture that looks like a Vincent van Gogh. But you have to ask it to do that. It has enormous data processing power but no agency or true creativity,” she argues.

“Creativity, continuous learning and empathy (to understand the root problem) are not typically found in an L&D plan, but these human skills underpin capabilities such as innovation, problem-solving and critical analysis.

“These are human capabilities that are critical to develop as we collectively work out how to enhance life for humans in a world with AI-enabled technology.”

So, how can organisations foster human skills needed alongside advancing AI? O’Coineen say the answer lies in creating a culture of learning, curiosity and continuous improvement.

“Desired behavioural skills need to be aligned to organisational processes, KPI measurement, rewards programmes and promotions as well as actively role-modelled by senior leadership,” she explains.

“Middle management also play a key role in defining how culture is experienced by employees and managers need to be both supported and encouraged to live the desired culture.”

Ultimately, ongoing skill development will be “critical” for organisations to remain competitive, said O’Coineen, as industry norms change and AI becomes more and more integrated in how we work.

“The skill of learning itself should become more widely recognised because the content of the learning may no longer be relevant throughout the course of a person’s career.”

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic