Social skills may set human workers apart from artificial intelligence

by Olivia Zayas Ryan

With the emergence of artificial intelligence, many people worry about the future of the job market. 

A study conducted in 2016 by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center that canvassed more than 1,400 technologists, futurists and scholars found that “most experts expect education and jobs-training ecosystems will shift in the next decade to exploit new virtual reality tools and artificial intelligence.” The recently released report also stated that many experts expect also fear what artificial intelligence means for capitalism.

More than 1,400 respondents were asked: “In the next ten years, do you think we will see new-piktochart_22371995_1e66f0cb75aa876a9f6ef92b064e231191726c5fthe emergence of new educational and training programs that can successfully train large numbers of workers in the skills they will need to perform the jobs of the future?”

70 percent responded, “yes,” they believe that new approaches will emerge and will prove to be successful. 30 percent said “no,” there will not be successful training programs in the future, and most expect that adaptation in teaching environments will not sufficiently prepare workers for the future.

In general, five themes were found in an analysis of the responses: a new training
ecosystem will evolve, students must be able to hone 21st-century skills, new credentialing systems will emerge as self-directing learning expands, training systems may not meet 21st-century needs within 10 years and artificial intelligence may fundamentally change the workplace. 

Five general themes found in the report. Image retrieved from Imagining the Internet Center’s Twitter account. 

Janna Anderson, director of Elon’s Imagining the Internet Center and the co-author of the report, said that students must cultivate skills that set them apart from artificial intelligence.

“Everybody needs to be a Jack of all trades, a Jill of all trades,” Anderson said. “You need to understand a wide variety of things and be curious and excited about lifelong learning.”

Anderson also said that while you need to work beyond technology, you also need to work with it.  

“You need to be willing to take the digital tools that we have at our disposal, the artificial intelligence that you have in your hands or carry in your pocket, and tap into the world’s knowledge and expand yourself.” Anderson said. “It’s not enough to be able to count on Siri or Alexa to answer things for you, you need to deepen your critical thinking skills, understand how to analyze information, and judge its veracity and be able to synthesize information in such a way that you can add value to your organization and also partner with that great intelligence as it keeps developing into the future.”

Respondents in the study predicted many different skills, capabilities and attributes to benew-piktochart_22372821_42303948a5e44502c2089db25a6157839bf9219b of future valuable. Some of the most common ones mentioned were: adaptability, resilience, empathy, compassion, judgement and discernment, deliberation, conflict resolution, and the capacity to motivate, mobilize and innovate.

Amber McCraw, assistant director of career services for the school of communications, said that she encourages her students to work on their soft skills to compete with artificial intelligence.
“A robot or a machine is not going to be able to build relationships with people or hold

Amber McCraw

effective conversations with people, request information from people,” McCraw said. “Things like that that are sometimes kind of natural things or things that need to be learned, pieces of your personality … I think that soft skills are the skills that students need to really focus on. You’re going to still need the technical skills or the software skills or things like that, but those are things that computers can do or can be trained to do in the future.”

Many Elon students also feel that their personal skills set them apart from artificial intelligence, saying that creativity, empathy and the ability to analyze are skills that robots do not have.

Junior Lindsey Clemmer, a student majoring in Cinema and Television Arts, believes that her creative outlook makes her more qualified to edit and produce videos than a robot.

I think there is a difference between being technical and being aesthetically pleasing, and I think giving a human touch to things is something that robots will never be able to do because humans know what other humans want to see,” Clemmer said. “I feel like you can’t really program a lot of that into a machine.”

Junior Logan Smith, though majoring in accounting, a very different field than Clemmer, felt similarly.

“I feel like a robot is capable of doing all the accounting things that a human can do, but I feel like something that sets a human apart from a robot is humans can actually analyze the data that you’re working with, whereas robots can’t,” Smith said. “At least, probably not in the near future, maybe someday they will be able to, but as of right now humans are the only ones who can interpret the data and actually analyze the data and provide a business with the solution to a problem.”

Scott Hildebrand

Though many respondents expressed a fear of self-directed learning nullifying the need for a college education, these students believe their skills they have learned at Elon still set them apart from robots or those who have learned technical skills through other forms of technology. Scott Hildebrand, assistant director of teaching and learning technologies at Elon, works specifically with teaching technology, but agrees and still believes that there is great value in in-person, classroom learning.

I still think it’s the sharing of experiences,” Hildebrand said. “I don’t think artificial intelligence, like computers, can go through and have those experiences, those life experiences that can be translated into a teaching and learning moment in the classroom. So yes, there’s lots of resources out there, but can you contextually connect those resources with the experiences that faculty members bring to the classroom.”



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