A Case for Empathy not Coding

I recently read an article on this topic by Bartalan Mesko, MD, Phd, the Director at The Medical Futurist Institute, and although related to medical doctors, it is relevant to the workforce generally. Dr. Mesko argues that, “With the fast advancement of digital technologies and the allure of entrepreneurial lifestyle, plenty of people in different professions turn to coding, thinking that the future will require even more IT skills than today. But this is far from the truth,” he says.

So exactly where is the future workforce headed? I have surveyed numerous articles on AI dealing with the  fear of robots replacing traditional jobs in this century. Although only an idea at the moment, it is obvious that robotic agents will eventually replace the human workforce. Even Stephen Hawkings, Bill Gates and Elon Musk suggest that AI will disrupt at least 50% of the workforce in the next decade. I personally have received requests from many students asking which industry they should focus on. It is worrisome, and although I have no crystal ball, it might be best to direct our future workers towards social and soft skills coupled with digital literacy, and less focus on traditional coding and entrepreneurship offerings.

This is not to suggest to throw the baby out with the bathwater but to be mindful of the changes that are about to occur. Everyone needs to familiarize themselves with the latest technologies but realize that disruptive technologies are about to change “who we are.”  For example, the next generation will play with AI friends and have VR teachers as well as robotic medical advisors.

Since automation and AI will do most of the cognitive tasks, then how are we to compete? We may have a robotic mentor helping us with calculus, all fine and good, but the agent certainly does not understand our inner feelings, attitudes of a fear towards mathematics. We will still need empathy, understanding and compassion. We will always need a human touch. I forsee a future where intelligent agents do all the effective tasks, but the affective domain, the personal stuff, will be done by humans. In the future the human interface should concentrate on what really matters, guiding us through the entire process with care.

We need to rethink our thinking on jobs that require social skills, as they are often undervalued and underpaid. I do believe this will change when robotic replacements take over, and soft skills become more important, more the norm and increasingly better paid. I envision a scenario where we realize that the person is much more important than the outcome.

Consider one day that, Turning the Self Inside Out, will become a mandatory sophomore course!


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