By Peter Springett | @PeterSpringett
Getting around the Berlin marathon last weekend was at times a painful experience. Especially at an age where I ought to know better. As the song goes, things ain’t what they used to be. Knees, ankles and quads for starters.
Take a look at the bigger picture, however, and I’m doing well. Long distance running is one of the few physical activities where humans outperform the rest of the animal kingdom.
When it comes to sprinting human beings don’t even rank in the top 20 mammals. Usain Bolt, when breaking the 100m world record, hit 29 miles per hour (mph). At the top of the list, a Mexican free-tailed bat can reach 99 mph. This I did not know. (Cheetahs, by the way, finish second at a mere 75 mph).
Of course, our brains are unique as well. For more than 100,000 years, we’ve been hard-wired for language, planning for the future, and trading with others. It’s served us well all these centuries, but now we’re under threat from the rapid rise of artificial intelligence.
Not because the machines are about to rise up and exterminate us all. But because industrialised societies face their greatest threat, since the cold war, from an ‘intelligence’ that already outperforms the human competition in many fields.
True, the same question – what do we do in the face of automation? – recurs with every so-called technology revolution. But this is the biggest challenge of them all. And rather like the marathon runner who must dig deep to find reserves of energy and motivation at 20 miles, we must all dig deep as established labour markets hit the wall.
Artificial intelligence: How to understand the future of work
This means more than simply training or retraining for a viable career. It means looking hard at what it means to be human and how our humanity can help us understand the future of work.
Even creativity is under threat. Earlier this year, researchers from Rutgers University, College of Charleston, and Facebook’s AI Research Lab “created an algorithm that allows AI to create art that is so convincing, human experts could not distinguish the difference between AI or human-made artworks.”
Bots are even writing news articles. These are short, data-driven pieces on the sports and financial pages for now, but they threaten the long-term prospects of content professionals, including this one.
What’s left? This BBC article on the traits that make human beings unique is a good place to start. As well as language and arts, human beings are hard wired for collaboration and empathy. We offer to help others, unprompted, from an early age. In fact, we enjoy it. Chimpanzees, for example, collaborate but it is further down their list of social priorities.
We are also good at understanding the mental states of others. We can put ourselves ‘in someone else’s shoes’ in any number of scenarios from business negotiations, to calming a distressed child. It also makes us very good liars – and sadists, as anyone on the receiving end of gaslighting will tell you.
Social media is our sweet spot
The good news is that positive ‘human’ qualities are increasingly valued in the workplace, as this report from LinkedIn makes clear. Collaborative skills: planning, teaching, sales and leadership all rate highly. Customer service – the ultimate business example of getting inside someone’s head – is highly ranked as well.
Along with these interpersonal qualities, being able to use basic software tools also matters. Spreadsheets, project management and – yes – slide show presentations will help you get the next job.
But the sweet spot, where technology and collaboration combine to give you a precious advantage, is social media. This where you can harness the most popular social platforms to network with new and existing customers. It’s also the place to share ideas and communicate the advantages of your business or your personal brand to an engaged audience.
How to beat a computer at chess
The final word goes to Brad Keywell, writing for the World Economic Forum earlier this year. In it he argues that the so-called fourth industrial revolution means that employees can get better at their jobs thanks to automation and artificial intelligence. Not least because software and the human mind approach problems from completely different angles. He offers the example of chess:
“Computers prefer to retreat, but they can store massive amounts of data and are unbiased in their decision-making.
Humans can be more stubborn, but also can read their opponent’s weaknesses, evaluate complex patterns, and make creative and strategic decisions to win.”
We’re not all chess grand masters – in the same way we can’t all run an Olympic-pace marathon. But the point is well made. Artificial intelligence is good at learning quickly and analysing vast amounts of information. But we have the edge with it comes to imagination, insight and sheer bloody-mindedness. Here’s to a creative and stubborn future in the workplace. With plenty of social media thrown in for good measure, of course.
Digital Leadership Associates: We are a Social Media Agency. We do three things: Social Media Strategy, Social Selling and Social Media Management. Drop us an email and let’s talk about how we can make an impact on your organisation.