What job skills can’t be replaced by AI?


The earliest artificial intelligence program was written way back in 1951. But outside of science fiction, AI didn’t enter the mainstream conversation until decades later. At Fast Company, we’ve been covering AI tech for many years, but nothing has compared to the excitement and fear that Open AI and its artificial intelligence chatbot ChatGPT have caused since it launched this past November. These new AI tools can feel at turns like a novelty (using ChatGPT to write love letters) and a harbinger of doom (replacing all manner of jobs previously thought of as specialized skills).

We’ve seen the panicked headlines about robots taking our jobs for years. How disruptive is AI? How can we use it to our advantage? And is there anything we, as regular humans, can do to not only keep our jobs but hold on to our humanity?

On the most recent episode of The New Way We Work, I spoke to Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief innovation officer at Manpower, professor at Harvard and Columbia, and author of the new book I, Human: Ai, Automation, and the Quest to Reclaim What Makes Us Unique. Chamorro-Premuzic emphasized that no matter how complex and advanced technologies like ChatGPT get, humans will still matter. “What’s going to be left for us to do is to deal with people’s issues, to deal with humans, to provide people with validation. Humans will always crave human affection, human understanding.”

There are skills that machines just can’t do and, as Chamorro-Premuzic says, those are the uniquely human skills, like management, which was recently named as one of the top skills employers are looking for.

So, says Chamorro-Premuzic, even though our work and workplaces are becoming more saturated with data and automation, humans will become even more important. “[Our] differentiating angle will be to develop and cultivate our emotional intelligence, our social skills, and our ability to feel what others feel and connect with them,” he says. “Because we can be sure that even if ChatGPT 5, 6, and 7 are much, much better, it will still not give a damn in the way that humans can.” 

This leaning into our uniquely human skills takes conscious effort, warns Chamorro-Premuzic. While AI tools are, on the surface, meant to make our lives easier, they also have a tendency to worsen our bad impulses, making us more distracted, biased, and impatient. “Algorithms and their business models, which rely on making more accurate predictions, have become quite good at nudging us in the direction of less variety,” he says. “The more predictable we are, the more money AI makes, by showing us stuff that turns us into an exaggerated and more boring version of ourselves.”

Chamorro-Premuzic says that the solution is simple: Infuse a little bit of variety into your life and interests, seek experiences that run counter to the models, and trick the algorithms to get yourself out of your bubble of predictability. If we manage to do that, he says, we have a chance to remain uniquely human and “inject a little bit of creativity into an otherwise very predictable and boring life.”

Listen to the full episode for more on how AI will impact knowledge work, including the impact Chamorro-Premuzic believes it will have on higher education.

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