September 18, 2019

What it takes to stay ahead of the curve in the Age of AI?

From virtual assistant tools to self-driving cars, Artificial Intelligence has revolutionised not just the way we work but also the way we live. With so much of benefits to offer, especially in businesses, it isn’t surprising that most companies consider AI as a threat to many existing jobs.

According to a report on the future of the workforce by PwC, 39% of CEOs are curious about the new skills they’ll need in the future to catch up with the impact of AI.

There is no doubt that AI will take away some currently existing jobs, but on the bright side, it is expected that AI is also going to create a lot of new opportunities in future. However, most of the new opportunities in future may require a new set of skills for workers to develop.

The Future of Jobs Report by the World Economic Forum suggests that by 2020, more than a third of the core skill sets in most job categories will comprise of skills that were not considered important in the past.

Another report by PwC says 87% of organisations believe that human skills are critical for the future, but few are maximising them in the right way.

Let’s look at two ways that allow humans to stay one step ahead of machines:

First, Empathy and Emotional Intelligence.

Even with the rise of AI and automation, emotions and empathy remain one of the most human traits. According to Facebook’s AI research director Yann LeCunn, it’s not easy for robots to innately develop any kind of emotion, without being programmed into them.

There are robots already programmed to recognize emotions, like Pepper, a social companion robot that can understand emotions and speak with people. However, though Pepper has been programmed to respond emphatically, it is not able to fully understand human feelings and emotions.

Humans can understand and resonate with another person’s feelings genuinely, making them better caretakers. That is why nursing is one of the careers least likely to be taken by robots, according to research by Oxford.

At the end of the day, that is primarily what humans need, irrespective of the nature of their problem. Some of the human problems existing today don’t need much technical expertise, as much as it needs empathy to understand people’s feelings.

One of the most crucial requirements in the customer relationship is building a relationship based on trust. No matter how powerful a machine can perform, it can never earn more trust than humans due to all possibilities of technical errors and glitches it can run into.

Therefore, to remain competitive in the age of AI, humans need to upskill their ability to empathise with not only customers but also with colleagues.

Second, Critical Thinking & Decision Making

The World Economic Forum asked 350 chief HR and strategy officers from 9 industries in 15 of the world’s biggest economies and found that one of the top skills that will reshape future workplaces is critical thinking.

Humans are good at identifying and processing patterns that gives valuable insights when they face new challenges. Toby Walsh, a professor of computer science at the National Information and

Communications Technology Australia, calls this ability common-sense reasoning.

According to Toby, common sense reasoning is the ability in humans to look at objects they’ve never seen before and apply their common sense to understand how it works and what they need to do in the given situation.

Many human decisions are based on situations that don’t fit into any logic that machines can meaningfully interpret. Machines function based on preconceived logics with pre-defined outcomes which are restricted within a limited set of cases and situations.

In businesses, especially in dealing with customers, most often leaders need to make decisions based on ethics and moral reasoning, where the outcome of a particular logic may be right or wrong only based on the context it is applied within.

In today’s customer-centric world that promotes empathy at its centre, businesses are expected to identify and solve the problems that customers face, including the ones they don’t share.

So, humans have the advantage in making much more informed decision than machines because humans can understand the context, the influencing factors and the emotions involved in making a decision based on the innate ability of reasoning and morality.

In the age of AI, where job roles and the nature of work is changing so fast, the innate human skills that machines cannot provide will continue to be at the centre of business and organisations need to find different ways to maximise these skills within the workforce.

However, it is important to remember that the world has always been changing and always will. Jobs have changed even in the past and will continue to change in future, even if not for AI, for something else. The only way humans can survive and thrive this constant evolution of the world is through the continuous process of unlearning about the past and learning for the future.


Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APM Group) Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Centre. She can be reached by email at or Experience our lifelong learning ecosystem today at