How AI Will Change the Future Workforce

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Jul 9, 2019

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

–T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding


In the film Wall-E, we’re invited into a world where robots and AI have made life easier to such an extent that people lack agency. People move on hovering chairs, have most life decisions taken out of their hands and, due to laziness, have become so fat that they can’t move. Some of us watch films like this and feel concerned about what the future might bring.

Many corporate recruiting leaders are concerned about the future of the workforce. They’re impressed by improvements in AI and wonder where it might lead.

The development of AI will reshape our workforce. However, it’s something we can welcome, and not fear, for one reason: as we lead these developments, we create opportunities to tap into our human greatness, both in work and beyond. In this article, I’ll share three ways that AI will move our workforce in positive directions.

My Wake-up Call

When I led an AI-integrated tech startup, I nearly burned out. Back in 2016, I was CEO and fundraiser-in-chief while our company was suffering a tech outsourcing nightmare. On top of that, I was spending 20 percent of my time coaching senior executives to pay the bills.

By this point, being CEO was a full-time job, with increasing customer, operational, strategic, and product demands. I had two to three full-time jobs, which wasn’t sustainable. Then, over Christmas, I got the flu. My aching body was telling me something. As I collapsed in bed, a question suddenly popped into my head: What if I don’t do this anymore? What if I hand over the leadership of Coachify?

As I acknowledged the question, I felt sparks of joy and relief. During early January, I told some close friends that I was considering stopping, and they were more encouraging than I’d expected. Over the next few weeks, I met with the other investors, told them how I felt, and moved on.

I didn’t want to lead a data company. My bedridden reflection was the start of the process of me discovering (anew) the red thread of my life and career: to help people flourish by working directly with them. Although I’d been dimly aware of it in my early twenties, realizing the extent of it was liberating for me. After that point, I couldn’t do anything else without being untrue to myself. The words of T. S. Eliot that I quoted earlier were particularly resonant for me at this time.

I found that, to my cost, I’d edged out three things in my life. As AI improves, three of the most important ways in which the workforce will change all relate to human flourishing. They are:

  • Integration leading to human-machine collaborations outperforming machines (physical)
  • More time for contemplating what matters most (purpose)
  • Supercharged human abilities (brainpower)

Improved AI will enable the workforce to improve these three dimensions due to our time and capacity being used differently. The more leaders understand and master this, the more inspired they will be, which will enable them to better inspire others.

Let’s look at each dimension in more detail.

Outperforming Machines 

The workforce will become more human-machine integrated. At Coachify, I took on too much personally (without the aid of AI) and it harmed me physically, as I came down with flu. The idea here is that when it’s rightly done, human/machine collaboration leads to better performance than humans alone and machines alone.

Garry Kasparov makes this point when describing the outcome of the online “freestyle” chess tournament hosted by the website Playchess. Surprisingly, the winner was a pair of amateur American players, Steven Cramton and Zackary Stephen, who used three computers at the same time. Reflecting on how they beat various Grandmasters, Kasparov wrote that it was a triumph of process: “weak human + machine + better process was superior to a strong computer alone and, more remarkably, superior to a strong human + machine + inferior process.”

This should lead us to devote AI recruiting resources to process development as well as team formation. Rather than being cowed by the awesome algorithmic capabilities of AI, we can instead be fueled with hope by the awesome process-generation, creative, and other abilities of humans.

More Time for Contemplating What Matters Most 

The human workforce will become more ethically and spiritually engaged in matters of purpose. I realized I didn’t want to lead a data company (Coachify), but I was so consumed with a treadmill of achievement that it took an external event to prompt wise reflection.

AI will empower humans to allocate more mental resources to asking ultimate questions, rather than getting stuck in fight or flight mode. I think it’s unlikely that AI will usher in the fabled 10-hour workweek. However, we’re already seeing shifts toward creativity and contemplation in role requirements.

If this seems scary to you, reflect on the 2008 credit crunch, which caused some to question the capitalist roots of our business system, in which recruiting is situated. Rather than jettisoning this system entirely, a good approach to AI can help us reform it as appropriate.

The development of AI is fueling increased wealth concentrations (in individuals, corporations, and nations). This will only exacerbate the strain on global economic systems unless the right action is taken. Whether we make sensible headway on the question of what “right” is will depend on the strength of our underlying ethic, something which we can choose to spend more time on as AI frees us up from certain mechanistic roles.

Accessing More of Our Brainpower 

AI will free the human workforce up for more mentally complex, emotionally demanding, strategic, and creative roles. At Coachify, I wasn’t accessing as much of my brainpower as I usually would.

Research shows that humans have much more brainpower than we’re using. Cognitive neuroscientist Caroline Leaf says the average person today only uses 0.001 percent of his or her brain. She argues that if we learn to (and consistently choose to) think properly, we can use up to six or eight percent of our brain in our lifetime — and maybe, in rare cases, up to 10 percent. According to Dr. Leaf, even using just 1 percent of your brain would significantly change how you act.

Leaf also explores how positive thinking and associations impact our ability to use our entire brain. Since positive memories can’t be built on top of negative ones, because the two storage structures are incompatible, we must eradicate negative memories altogether and then replace them with positive ones through forgiveness, release, repentance, and a conscious letting go.

AI is relevant here because machines can use large datasets to make predictions. Over time, machines will increasingly be able to access and use data about how the human brain responds in different scenarios, including in recruiting. Scientists and technologists will be able to use machine learning and associated techniques to make predictions and to develop theories on how we might best build our brain power. What an exciting prospect!

What is this place that, according to Eliot (above), we will know as if for the first time? In recruiting, it’s an injunction to prioritize human flourishing in the way we design AI interventions.

Both AI and spirituality are pivotal keys to humanity reaching its full potential, which we absolutely haven’t yet achieved. Therefore, the case that AI can ultimately surpass humans’ current abilities, when not considered against the argument that humans can also surpass our current abilities, is a little two dimensional and simplistic in its trajectory.

If we rest on who we truly are and resist the hubris of thinking we can do it alone, flourishing awaits. The development of AI carries risks, and we need to focus on aligning its aims with our own. But the risks shouldn’t stop us from exploring the possibilities.

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