Will AI Takeover Humans? How The Human Workforce Can Develop Alongside AI

At recent focus groups held by Development Beyond Learning (DBL) in Sydney, London and Singapore this was the hot topic of conversation.

DBL invited business, talent, people and culture, and learning and development leaders, from diverse industries, to roundtable events on the future of work. The discussions focussed on three areas:

  • the future of work

  • future skills

  • future skills development

The burning question everyone left was;

What would be the true impact of the future on the workplace and how could we start to embrace AI?


Whether you believe it’s science fiction or not artificial intelligence is on the rise and smart machines will transform how we live and work.

It is happening now.

The World Economic Forum recently released a video listing the top 10 countries adopting AI and robotics in the workplace. In the number one spot was South Korea with the surprising statistic that 1 in every 631 workers was a robot.

At Netflix machine learning is integral to its video recommendation engine, so much so that it has valued the ROI at 1 billion GBP a year, due to its impact on customer retention.

AI is also creating new 'talent' requirements in organisations, and is likely to impact the early career talent organisations recruit more and more in coming years. Increased adoption of AI is also creating new training and development needs for organisations, as discussed in this recent article in the Australian Financial Review.

The future of business, and the future of work, is changing. The fourth industrial revolution has arrived.

Thankfully the long history of human kind suggests that we have always adapted to new ways of working from the first industrial revolution using water and steam power, to the second using electric power, and the third using electronics and information technology. Now we are at the fourth industrial revolution, the digital revolution, a fusing of physical, digital, and biological technologies.

New tools to do work have always been emerging and new jobs have always followed. AI is no different.

There are two categories of AI, weak and strong. Weak AI, also known as narrow AI is artificial intelligence that is focused on one narrow task. Strong AI, in contrast, is described as a machine with a consciousness, sentience and mind. A machine with the ability to apply intelligence to any problem, rather than just one specific problem. The AI systems that many of us have encountered up to now are mostly considered weak AI.

Weak AI will no doubt continue to innovate and replace jobs that were once performed by people. Despite this negative view of AI there are many benefits and opportunities that it can bring for organisations, their people and their customers. There is not only opportunity for new jobs to emerge with AI but also for current jobs to evolve and become more rewarding.

Across our roundtable events there was consensus that people will not be made redundant, instead roles will evolve, productivity will increase and life will never be quite the same.

Productivity office building

The OECD predicts that the level of attrition from AI entering the workplace will be less than 10%. This is because each individual job requires the completion of multiple tasks.

A recent article in The Harvard Business Review states that companies should look at AI through the lens of business capabilities rather than technologies. Taking a broad view of how AI can support business in three areas: automating processes, gaining insight through data analysis, and engaging with customers and employees.

In London, representatives from a leading financial services institute shared how graduate analysts worked long hours completing administrative tasks, leaving them little time for the more interesting and challenging parts of their role. They were considering how AI could aid in performing some of the more menial tasks, such as scheduling and handling data, freeing up the analysts to focus on interpreting and presenting the data for meaningful business outcomes.

It may seem that asking a workforce to positively embrace machines taking over their work is ambitious (especially for generations and cultures who hold strong to the notion of a career for life). Therefore preparing individuals for the possibility of a new career and to learn or retrain for a new job is just as important as the training or upskilling itself.

This is where the skill of growth mindset will be key. Growth mindset is the understanding that abilities and intelligence can be developed.


In Singapore, we heard from talent managers in South East Asia that recruiting for the ‘right’ mindset has become a priority. Curiosity, an ability to learn and self-awareness are the capabilities and attributes they will be screening candidates for in the future. We also discovered how Singapore has been championing lifelong learning and upskilling since 2015, when the government launched the SkillsFuture scheme.

The Head of Education at a leading software company stated that there is a need for governments and schools globally to look to enable a stronger transformation of core work competencies.

Development Beyond Learning have researched, identified and shared a set of core future skills that include growth mindset as the underpinning skill for all future skills. They view future skills as the development of uniquely human, transferrable skills to help people future proof their careers and equip themselves for the future of work.

In Sydney it was interesting to see the conversations align to and validate this research. Identifying the need to focus on skills and capabilities that artificial intelligence has trouble replicating such as creativity and collaboration, presenting, influencing and interacting authentically with others. As David Autor, Professor of Economics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology describes it, they will be the skills required to perform, non-routine work that require cognitive ability.

A smart machine may be able to diagnose problems and recommend actions for improvement. It will however take human beings, to communicate and lead change, spurring others into action.

In this capacity social intelligence (SI) will be a highly regarded cognitive skill of the future. Social intelligence is the ability to get along well with others, and to get them to cooperate. It includes an awareness of situations and the social dynamics that govern them, and a knowledge of interaction styles and strategies that can help a person achieve his or her objectives in dealing with others. It also involves a certain amount of self-insight and a consciousness of one's own perceptions and reaction patterns. An ability that strong AI may master but from all reports this is a long way off.

The one thing AI can’t do is tell itself how it should be used.

There is a huge need to develop leaders of the future to be creative, critical thinkers and complex problem solvers who are able to make moral, ethical and socially conscious decisions about when, where and for what AI is to be used.

The long term consequences of AI in the workplace is highly nebulous but it is important that it is not ignored.

We have the ability to prepare, plan and implement strategies that will enable humans to transform and succeed in their careers. Organisations can do this by:

  • Recruiting for mindset as much as technical ability

  • Challenging and redefining traditional talent and leadership pipelines

  • Assessing workforce skills and capability gaps against those required for the future

  • Preparing people for learning, retraining and upskilling prior to rolling out training Implementing strategies and programs that develop future skills and mindsets

Organisations must look to enable and create a balance between artificial and social intelligence in the workplace, to enable both together to transform businesses, products and services, engage with and solve problems that allow us all to not only survive but thrive in the digital age.

By Saskia Spaan, Development Beyond Learning
DBL would like to thank all the leaders who participated in and contributed to the Future Skills roundtables in Sydney, London and Singapore held in May 2018. A special thankyou to SEAAGE, Gemstar and the Australian Institute of Company Directors for hosting DBL.