Robotics and AI

Three suggestions to humans not to be “put to retirement” by the robots

21 August 2018 | Written by Stefano Tenedini

We are and will be (at least for a while) unbeatable for intuition, for the ability to unleash "contact endorphins" with interlocutors, for ethical vision and values. But these are also the soft skills that we need to teach machines.

Tre suggerimenti agli umani per non farsi “pensionare” dai robot

If artificial intelligence will soon make the social and labour organization we are accustomed to useless, what will guarantee people that they are still relevant, useful? Why should a client want to talk to us instead of the digital assistant? Are we going to be put to retirement, as we did for the telegram, the record players or the telephone tokens? The disruptive changes are so called precisely because they are like an earthquake, but at least they require us to change pace and look at things from another perspective.

“Should I worry about the future of my profession?”, asks Alexandra Stubbings, a business organization consultant, for example. And the answer that she gives is surprising: “I found out that there is already an app that does my job: it provides a coaching method and the right questions, then analyzes the answers and helps the teams to reflect on the dynamics and face the tensions. If things were really like that, I would be ruined.”

Stubbings doesn’t stop at appearances and turns the enemy into a partner. She used to believe that teaching was a very “human” job, hardly replicable by artificial intelligence, instead, the neural architecture at the base of the “coach-bot” shows that we are allies. “The app acts like me: it identifies patterns in team behaviour and encourages dialogue. But I’m curious, reactive and empathetic, I can stay one step ahead. In addition, the app puts coaching within the reach of customers who may prefer me for a personalized journey”.

In short, between professionals and AI it is not said that it will be war as in the nineteenth century when the workers poked steam machines for fear of losing their jobs. It depends on the soft skills that each human person has (or is able to acquire) and technological developments, which will not always be very fast. For example, it seems that for now, the plumbers can rest assured: the technical choices and the eye-hand coordination required to work under the sink will not be within reach of the robots for at least fifteen years. Some anxiety for radiologists, whose work will be automated and made cheaper and faster: but we will take advantage of it as a society and as a patient, thanks to the saving of time and expense. And doctors will recycle themselves as coach of artificial colleagues.

And looking at tomorrow, the answer is just that: we will remain useful and necessary only if we devote ourselves to what is specific to humans – skills that are difficult to replicate, at least in the near future, and that allow us to give creative answers based on adaptation and experience. Ultimately, on instinct and ability not to guess, but to interpret complex scenarios with many variables and few reliable data.

There are some strengths that we can boast as human. First of all, intuition, that part of creativity that looks at the invisible, leaps through different topics, recognizes a pattern in chaos until suddenly everything seems to make sense. If the robots are excellent in the macro, giving meaning to a mass of big data, then perhaps we are still unbeatable in the micro: we see a flower where AI finds only grass.

Then there is the interaction and in particular the human touch. A research verified that we more willingly say yes to a stranger if he or she accompanies a request (fill out a questionnaire or give charity) gently touching the arm. When working more and more in the virtual world, the need for endorphins activated by contact also grows.

Finally, values and ethics distinguish us from robots too. Which does not mean that machines are not developing the ability to make fairer choices, but if they succeed, it is precisely because they are learning from us while interacting with them. Let’s keep the ability to question ourselves about motivations, principles, ideas, projects, doubts and hopes, even contrasts and conflicts. A good way to stay necessary will be to transmit our humanity to the machines.

Stefano Tenedini
Stefano Tenedini


Journalist and correspondent for newspapers and magazines, press office experiences and external relations in finance and in Confindustria. Today he deals with communication for large and small businesses, professionals and start-ups. As a trainer, he helps entrepreneurs and managers to communicate better with the media and the markets.

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