Despite the demand for data architects and AI developers, companies are finding they need employees with other, less talked about skills. We need curious, creative minds who can lead us to use new technologies in new ways. Right now, that’s something a machine can’t do.
A few caveats for you techies out there before you switch your field of study. First, know that the digital economy changes by the second. Having a solid mix of both technical and soft skills is essential to becoming the best possible candidate for any new job opportunity, whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned professional. And second, as AI continues to advance in terms of emotional intelligence, the demand for these softer skills may also change or fall by the way side. For now, however, no matter what segment of technology or business you may be operating within, I’d encourage you to develop some of the following capabilities:
Data can tell us lots of things, and algorithms can find, match, and sort like nobody’s business. But without a clear goal or purpose, that data is still worthless. Today’s companies need people who can put the company’s progress, strategic goals, and product development into a greater context and understand how the data you have can help support them. In short, you need to know how your data can solve your business problems—and as much as AI can help target issues in data, they can’t tell you how to solve them.
As companies become blinded by the magic that is Big Data, they also become susceptible to blind spots in their own thinking. For instance, they might try to run numbers that support the outcome they want, rather than the one that is true. Or they might fail to recognize the bias in their own algorithms that could produce biased results. That’s why critical thinking—and a healthy dose of skepticism—are imperative when it comes to AI. Yes, data is great, but it doesn’t always reflect real life.
Technology is changing at warp speed and employers want to see employees stay curious for new knowledge. Today’s business world is not one where employees can put their head down and stay the course. In fact, staying the course today could lead to your company’s downfall. No, businesses today need people who want to learn new things and find relevant ways to apply them in your company’s context. Without curiosity, your technical skills will—eventually—be worthless.
As much as some people like data, most of us do not find data “inspirational.” And in today’s market, the ability to think beyond—to imagine the next big thing—to create a brand experience and feeling—all require creative inspiration. Today’s marketplace demands big thinkers who can see the next big opportunity beyond the bottom line. They need people who can envision new ways to use smart beacons to pull customers into their brick and mortar stores … new ways to use AI to target and personalize customer communication … and even more revolutionary ways of creating a branded omnichannel experiences your customers will love. As much data as AI can process—it still can’t do that.
In the past, I’ve talked about the big fat elephant in the room when it comes to AI and robots: ethics. No matter how good AI is, it has no ability to determine right from wrong. Ethics are a uniquely human characteristic. What’s more, they vary widely from person to person. Companies today need people they can trust to develop ethical standards for their company’s tech use and even turn that into part of their trusted brand and culture. For instance, when customers know they can trust you to NEVER sell their information with third parties, they’ll be more likely to remain loyal. Whether it be footage from an in-home security cam, route maps from your smart car’s GPS, or the routes you take when walking through your favorite store—customers want privacy. And you’ll need an ethical leader to ensure they get it.
Indeed, as I shared in my piece, “The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence,” AI and robotics are pushing humans to a turning point. Some feel it will grow too fast and take humans over, while others (like myself) feel that if we are careful in ensuring that technology remains a human tool, not a human replacement, we’ll be all right. The skills I shared above—contextualization, creativity, critical thinking, curiosity, and ethics—all play a part in keeping AI’s development on a safe a positive track. They ensure we never advance tech just for tech’s sake, but always for a clear goal, with a clear limit in mind.
Which brings up one last bonus soft skill I failed to add above: communication. Ideas are nothing if you can’t find a way to express them in ways other people can understand or rally behind. It’s no longer enough to have tech skills. You need people who can use those skills in innovative, inspiring, and compelling ways. When you find them, there will be no stopping your company’s success.