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Working the Future blog: our latest insights and future of work sensemaking

NURTURING HUMAN-FIRST WORKSPACES IN THE AGE OF AI

2024-06-06 11:24

Dr Naeema Pasha

Blog, EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT, RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION, FUTURE OF WORK, AI, DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION, HUMAN-CENTRED LEADERSHIP,

NURTURING HUMAN-FIRST WORKSPACES IN THE AGE OF AI

How can we understand ‘humanness’ in the context of an increasingly artificially intelligent world, and what lessons can we draw on from our human past?

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At Working the Future, we believe that humans are hardwired for connection, for interaction and for relationship building across all aspects of their lives.

 

So, how can we understand ‘humanness’ in the context of an increasingly artificially intelligent world, and what lessons can we draw on from our human past?

The Enduring Human: Cultivating Connection in an AI-Infused World

Our inherent desire for connection is a significant characteristic of our species. Evolutionary psychologists argue that from the earliest days of shared firepits to the social networks of today, humans are hardwired for interaction and relationship building. 

Of course, the connection-hardwiring can go into overdrive, and people like Henri Tajfel’s with his work on Social Identitysays we can take it too far, giving rise to negative group think and even overt nationalism and discriminatory thinking. 

But our fundamental need to connect permeates every aspect of our lives, shaping our well-being, creativity, and even our survival! This aligns with the work of social psychologist Abraham Maslow, whose hierarchy of needs shows how much belonging and connection is important to us – only food more so. 

So how then, with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), can we remain human in a world increasingly dominated by machines? Could Humanness be removed?

On one hand, some, like Yuval Noah Harari in his seminal work Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, say there is a future where AI surpasses human intelligence, potentially rendering us obsolete. Harari argues that advancements in AI could lead to a "technocracy," a term started in the 1930s now be used again in a workplace governed by algorithms and devoid of the ‘messy’ human element of leadership. 

Then on the other hand, there are those who echo the anxieties of the Luddites, a 19th-century movement that protested the mechanisation of labour. As Adnan Masood argues in Responsible AI in the Enterprise, AI should have governance tools to ensure fairness, bias mitigation, explainability, privacy compliance, and privacy in an enterprise setting. 

We may think Harari’s ideas are outlandish as our human condition is so social and our brains wired so much for connection, our profound desire sense of belonging is so deep – so therefore machines can’t come into our human bubble. But here is something to burst it: AI and particularly Conversational AI. 

This AI is interacting with humans in previously human-dominated domains. The rise of Conversational AI presents a unique challenge. AI can now automate many tasks that mimic human skills such as empathy, judgment and creativity. Intelligent chatty chatbots and virtual assistants are increasingly sophisticated, capable of holding conversations, answering questions, and even providing emotional support. This raises concerns about the erosion of human-to-human qualities like empathy, compassion, and critical thinking – qualities that are fostered through human interaction. 

We’ve been here, sort of, before. The growing tension between two historical perspectives: the technocratic and the Luddite. Technocrats, exemplified by thinkers like Alvin Toffler, believe technology is a force for progress, capable of solving societal problems and enhancing human experience. 

Conversely, Luddites, named after the 19th Century English textile workers who protested automation, express a concerns of technology replacing human jobs and eroding the social fabric.

This begs the question: can AI ever truly replicate the human touch?

There's a growing consensus among experts that the future of work lies not in human replacement, but in human-AI symbiosis. A 2022 report by McKinsey Global Institute suggests that AI is likely to create more jobs than it displaces, but these will be jobs using skillsets that emphasise human strengths like empathy, critical thinking, and the ability to manage complex relationships. New jobs may not be created at all even. 

Of course, AI can be a powerful tool, freeing us from mundane tasks – but it might alter our ability to connect with other humans as well. 

At this stage of Ai adoption, we should not only need to be critical of AI adoption, but also push forward with more human connectivity – as we advocate for in all our client work. We will need to reconsider how we prioritise Face-to- Face interaction – even when hybrid and remote.

In an age dominated by digital communication, we may need to actively seek out opportunities for in-person interaction. Research by Matthew Lieberman in Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect demonstrates the importance of physical proximity and nonverbal cues in building trust and fostering strong relationships. This doesn't have to be limited to formal settings. Our casual conversations and lunches, or create designated spaces are needed within the workplace for informal gatherings. These interactions can spark unexpected collaboration and innovation, and more importantly, remind us of the human element that lies at the heart of any successful team. 

For now, at least while Emotional AI tools are still behind us., humans possess the ability to understand and respond to the emotional nuances of communication. 

This also brings us to the Anti-work movement. The UK's economic inactivity rate shows that means 9.2 million people are not in work nor looking for a job. It might mean we need to consider how we encourage people to engage by fostering meaningful work – and diminish AI impact. Humans are motivated by more than just efficiency and productivity. Our drive for connection means we also crave a sense of purpose and fulfilment in our work. AI adoption should really be used as a way to enhance humanness in the workplace – right now there’s a danger the opposite if happening.

The Human-AI Symbiosis: A Path Forward

Many people will say the emergence of AI is not a harbinger of human obsolescence, but rather an opportunity to redefine what it means to be human in the digital age. 

If we priories our capacity for connection, cultivating our unique skillsets, and strategically integrating AI tools, we can navigate this technological shift and ensure that the humanness remains. 

By creating a work environment that values human connection, emotional intelligence, and lifelong learning over machis, productivity, growth at all costs, organisations could engage employees to leverage human strengths that AI cannot replicate.

This future hinges on embracing the human need to connect. Sociality sits at the heart of success in the future of work.

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Looking to dive deeper into some of the areas covered in this blog post? Check out our Foresight Focus report and individual chapters. Alternatively, contact us for a no-obligation chat.

 

References

Henri Tajfel, 1974: Social identity and intergroup behaviour https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/053901847401300204

Yuval Noah Harari Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, 2017 https://www.ynharari.com/book/homo-deus/

Adnan Masood, 2023, Responsible AI in the Enterprise: Practical AI risk management https://www.amazon.co.uk/Responsible-Enterprise-management-explainable-hyperscalers-ebook/dp/B0C3CRPS1S?ref_=ast_author_mpb

McKinsey Global Survey on AI                         https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/quantumblack/our-insights/the-state-of-ai-in-2022-and-a-half-decade-in-review

Matthew Lieberman, 2013, Social – Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect https://global.oup.com/academic/product/social-9780198743811?cc=ma&lang=en

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