Emotional Intelligence: Differentiator for Humans & Machines?
How can humans adapt to make the best use of machines—and remain employed?
We talked earlier about the future of work and the likelihood that automation and algorithms may sharply reduce the job pool of the future. The use of automation in human capital management allows HR the opportunity to expand—not diminish—their influence in the workforce. Instead of processing time cards, HR can forecast workforce needs, develop effective engagement opportunities, and fine-tune recruiting processes. How will automation look in other areas of the workforce?
Employment spheres up for grabs
If it has not happened already, automation will touch every aspect of human work. Just one example is electronic mail (email), which revolutionized human communication and is now ubiquitous. While fabrication and manufacturing seem clear automation targets—what about other fields?
- Sales: The art of the sale is innately human—or is it? Marketing automation makes selling a numbers game of how to create customized offers and sell more through data tracking and analytics. Until machines and algorithms can move potential customers fully down the sales funnel, the position remains a job share.
- Teaching: There has long been digital interest in educational software. Class size, subject, age and objectives make a big difference about who (or what) is the better teacher—machine or mortal? The mixed learning model is already in place in learning institutions around the world. Online learning and educational MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) offer a wide array of educational selections from institutions like Stanford, MIT, Harvard, Yale, Carnegie Mellon, UCLA, and more. While online courses require more self-discipline than one to 20 teacher guided courses—the potential for electronic education is deep.
- Legislation and legal representation: Law enforcement makes wide use of automation and machinery. In both detection and protection, that collaboration is bound to grow in the future. The suggestion, creation, debate, and enactment of laws, and the debate of those laws are likely to remain in the human domain.
- Compliance and quality assurance: Another field some feel will remain dominated by humans is compliance and quality assurance (QA). That said, development of better automated QA systems and processes could identify and halt potentially devastating defects and product problems before they reach the market.
- Management: Jobs that involve coordination, motivation, and creation of structure to manage human capital are not going to be outmoded by machines any time soon. We referred earlier to a recent McKinsey report, that notes, “Capabilities such as creativity and sensing emotions are core to the human experience and also difficult to automate.”
As computers and machines make inroads into human work, there is debate about how far computers can go with innately human abilities, including:
- Common sense reasoning: Specific programmed information gives machines the ability to act. It does not give them the ability to synthesize unrelated information and apply it to a current dilemma. The ability to associate disparate characteristics of properties in the world to create, correct, or contain a situation remains a human achievement.
- Empathy: Machines, as yet, are far from the ability to demonstrate true empathy. Empathy is a powerful ability and lies at the core of human social behavior.
- Art is in the eye of the beholder: Creativity is at the heart of any artistic endeavor. Some believe machines cannot, and will not, be able to create art. Others disagree.
- Relational quality: Depending on your definition, a relationship with a machine could be possible. However, a machine is not likely to present, conjure, or demonstrate the very essence of humanity—compassion, passion, love, imagination, and “out of the blue” thinking.
These attributes can loosely be considered part of a group of characteristics known as “emotional intelligence.”
One way of looking at it: emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence, EI or EQ, means different things to different people. Research published by John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey in 1990, and later popularized by Daniel Goleman in book form, defined a uniquely human set of skills.
Mayer and Salovey define emotional intelligence as, “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”
Later, Chade-Meng Tana, a former Google engineer, expanded the concept into a popular curriculum for Google engineers and others.
Discussing creativity, Scott Barry Kaufman, writing for the Harvard Business Review (HBR) states, “Creative people…are characterized by their adaptability and their ability to mix seemingly incompatible states of being depending on the task, whether it’s open attention with a focused drive, mindfulness with daydreaming, intuition with rationality, intense rebelliousness with respect for tradition, etc. In other words, creative people have messy minds.”
Why is this important? According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), emotional intelligence and its relatives rank as top skills needed to lead and fill employment gaps in the next five years. The entire list looks like this:
- Complex problem solving
- Critical thinking
- People Management
- Coordinating with others
- Emotional intelligence
- Judgment and decision making
- Service orientation
- Cognitive flexibility
In their original research, Mayer and Salovey, note, “At its most advanced level, intrapersonal knowledge allows one to detect and to symbolize complex and highly differentiated sets of feelings…to attain a deep knowledge of…feeling life.”
On the economic side, research suggests workers with greater social skills have more diverse capabilities, improve team productivity, and work more efficiently.
In a 2015 interview, Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and authors of the much-discussed book, The Second Machine Age, conclude humans can beat machines through creative endeavors, social interaction, and physical dexterity and mobility. Simply put, “robots do not have the kinds of emotional intelligence that humans have.”
Humans are complex, adaptive, creative, and ever-changing. We can perceive, synthesize, and apply new experience almost immediately. Imagination, reciprocal empathy, and vision are inborn human qualities. In the new Machine Age, we will remain relevant by doing these things better than the things we invented. We must do what we do best—be human.