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Chiara Succi

February 26th, 2024

Humans bring to work a type of intelligence that AI cannot match

3 comments | 25 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Chiara Succi

February 26th, 2024

Humans bring to work a type of intelligence that AI cannot match

3 comments | 25 shares

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

There is much fear that artificial intelligence will steal human jobs. Many human capabilities are being delegated to machines and abilities such as memory, attention, accuracy and manual precision could be undermined. But humans have a unique type of intelligence that AI can’t match. Chiara Succi describes three levels of (irreplaceable) human contribution to the workplace: intelligent hand, intelligent mind and intelligent heart. 


The heated debate about artificial intelligence (AI) and its “extraordinary potential” is surprisingly leading to a rediscovery of humans’ contribution to work. If robots can bring speed, precision, and strength, we still need fantasy, intuition and affection. It is important to debunk the belief that machines will steal the jobs of human beings, unless they are asked to repeat only one single task. In fact, we will not see the elimination of our occupations, but artificial intelligence applications will certainly impact and modify them deeply.

Weakening human capabilities

Automation will change workers’ behaviours and the risk is that some abilities could be undermined, such as memory, attention, accuracy, manual precision, and many others. How can we leverage new technologies without diminishing our competencies? Which human assets are in danger and in need of protection?

It is not easy to describe the magnificence of human intelligence (HI) and the literature has not yet presented an exhaustive taxonomy of relevant human capabilities in the digital age. As a starting point, I propose a description structured over three levels:

The intelligent hand

Some manual skills cannot be replaced by machines while keeping the same versatility and level of quality. In every organisation, we can identify some activities that require a particular know-how and a great amount of knowledge that is transferred over time, through on-the-job training. Several lines of manual work require the ability to solve complex changing problems that are always slightly different because the raw material, temperature or context is different. It would make no sense to program a robot to solve a problem that occurs differently almost every time.

The world of luxury, in particular, strives for authenticity and values artisanal processes, which make some handmade goods unique. Contemporary research finds that products, services and organisations perceived as authentic carry value that consumers are willing to pay for.

As a side effect, if we push to replace manual work with AI, we might miss some parts of the work experience such as technical mastery, dedication to the job, experimentation, apprenticeship, concentration, and caring about excellence, with possible implications and impacts difficult to assess for the workplace.

The intelligent mind

Matthew Crawford warns us of the risk of “learned helplessness” as an effect of automation and digitalisation. People display a lower level of individual agency and a higher level of dissatisfaction. Office jobs often don’t allow us to experience the direct effects of our actions and to see tangible results.

In fact, we have a greater amount of data at our disposal, but an inferior capacity to read them, and probably at a lower speed in comparison with an algorithm. It appears natural to delegate complex tasks and difficult decisions to machines, the danger being that we will lose critical thinking. This might weaken our exercise of judgment and we may face issues more superficially and impulsively, without going in-depth and without analysing root causes.

This might represent a problem, considering that cognitive skills such as problem-solving, creativity, innovativeness, and learning to learn are becoming increasingly important in the workplace. Decisions are taken by managers largely based on their intuition and not based on a mere analysis of data.

AI doesn’t have the sensitivity to manage unexpected events or crises. A self-driving car cannot enter a complex roundabout, as it cannot identify a zero-risk condition. Human drivers, instead, find the courage to travel adapting to the flow and moderating their speed to avoid accidents, as a robot will (probably) never be able to do.

We must acquire higher awareness of the potentiality of our mind and its ability to find mental shortcuts, the so-called heuristics, which allow us to source daily experience to survive and overcome obstacles.

The intelligent heart

Communication among human beings is becoming more complex and more frequent; it can be supported, facilitated, “augmented” by technologies, but never fully substituted by a remote system. Mysteriously, the hormone oxytocin, which is essential for the development of trust and emotional engagement, is produced only when we interact in presence.

Emotional intelligence and even a sense of humour can be extremely powerful, especially in the workplace. Only real interactions and laughing together release ‘feel-good’ hormones, such as endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin.

Finally, the moral question, distinguishing between good and bad, is central when we discuss artificial intelligence. Computers alone are not able to work ethically and, consequently, discrimination and injustice might be automated.

Augmented by machines

If Steve Jobs said that “computers are like a bicycle for the mind”, AI represents its racing car. In fact, there are several areas in which AI can effectively support human intelligence, such as offering new paths for exploration, enhancing the creative process, saving time and focusing attention on relevant tasks.

In organisations, AI can facilitate the imagination process in the development of new products or new ideas. The exploratory phase typically requires access to information, multiple experiences, time, and space to take place. AI can accelerate this phase, removing several roadblocks and quickly testing new directions.

AI and technological developments have begun to transform and aid creative and complex processes, as well as challenge what we believe to be advanced reasoning ability. After losing to a computer program for the first time, the Go world champion declared “I’m learning new moves and I’m becoming a better player thanks to AlphaGo…”

The complexity of the context is forcing companies to redesign their organisational model and to clarify the contribution of employees, in particular of managers. This can represent an opportunity to develop human potential and to increase people’s effectiveness and satisfaction.

It is necessary to acquire a higher awareness of human capabilities and personal talents. organisations and educational institutions play a crucial role in developing it. They have to create environments in which people can express themselves, make mistakes, restart, create and innovate and not just execute tasks or process information (like robots).

 


About the author

Chiara Succi

Chiara Succi is an Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at ESCP Business School (Turin campus).

Posted In: Career and Success | Labour | Management | Technology

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