Compassion gives competitive advantage over robots in workplace
Claudia Olsson, expert in digital leadership
“Technical progress has always scared people, as it can be hard to gauge the long-term consequences. But the more we learn about artificial intelligence, the better we can prepare for the future and prevent the technology from potentially being used against us," says KTH alumna Claudia Olsson, expert in digital leadership.
In the workplaces of the future, with people and robots increasingly complementing one another, Claudia Olsson predicts that many current job roles will need to be restructured.
“Driverless cars and trucks, for instance, will change the driving profession. Artificial intelligence that can design buildings and graphic profiles will alter the role of designer. And automatic accounting could reduce the need for accountants moving forward,” she says.
Claudia Olsson also believes that the role of engineer could change, since tasks such as computer programming could be wholly or partly replaced by automated coding in the future and performed by robots.
“A lot of people think that robots can only replace workers who have simple, repetitive work tasks, but on the labour market there’s a great need to automate the professional skills that cost the most or are hardest to come by.”
Are there any human qualities that are needed on the job market and that still cannot be replaced by AI?
“Yes. Robots can’t replace people in jobs that require human care and consciousness. Human contact is still needed in social and medical care, for example.
“It’s also clear that at most workplaces, culture, leadership and human interaction are crucial in how well we manage to deal with rapid change in a digital world. So human learning, compassion and creativity will be increasingly key areas of development.”
Another quality which she calls “uniquely human”, and which therefore constitutes a competitive edge over robots, is the ability to ask the right questions at the right time – questions that are of genuine value and benefit to humanity.
Claudia Olsson believes it is important that societies work long-term for “what is ethically and empathetically right” in AI contexts.
“Technology can be a democratising force if we exploit its full potential, but at the same time we must make sure that we develop technology based on clearly defined ethical principles.”
What do you say to those who view AI’s growing role in society as a threat?
“I absolutely understand that, as the consequences of AI could be negative if we don’t take full responsibility. We need to see the risks, but also to focus in on taking advantage of the opportunities. But we shouldn’t be too pessimistic. Broadly speaking, I can see a tendency to catastrophise when it comes to AI and digitalisation generally, and I don’t think being afraid of progress helps anyone. Instead, we should spend time learning more about progress so that we can make better long-term decisions, both for individuals and for society.”
Claudia Olsson emphasises the value of establishing more dialogue and standardised regulation of AI systems internationally.
“We need more international collaboration around how our personal data should be managed, for example.”
She believes that many new questions will arise in the near future about what is and is not permitted in data collection, particularly when it comes to aspects such as surveillance and privacy.
“We make important choices in different technological shifts, so we should be well informed and well prepared. While we may feel safe sharing our personal data today, we don’t know how it might be used in the long term. That’s why I think we need more knowledge and reflection about data security generally. Learning will be a success factor for our future society.”
Text: Katarina Ahlfort
Photo: Mikael Sjöberg