From the Trenches: The Future of AI and Our Work


Four interviews with members of a large, technology-based company located in the hub of Silicon Valley show that professionals outside the artificial intelligence (AI) world are taking AI seriously. Their roles and functions are varied: marketing, human resources, sales, and engineering. Despite the differing functions, common themes emerged. They all felt that there is a gap of AI in their jobs today, but feel we need to incorporate more AI to alleviate certain tasks. They also felt that we, as a society, need to do more to enhance emotional intelligence.

Over the course of the last 12 weeks, I’ve read a lot of contrarian predictions and theories on the short and long-term impacts of AI. Many people think some of the bigger impacts have already started, others believe AI’s effects are far in the future. I took this opportunity to find out what my professional peers thought.  

Athena Floro is finishing her independent study course on AI and our futures of work. She and I have been learning together as she took on background and field research this quarter. She is also finishing her MBA at Santa Clara University and we should all wish her well as she starts the next stage of her career. All best, Athena!
— Terri Griffith

Where Can AI Help?

There was no sense of hesitancy – everyone I interviewed was optimistic about the latest advances in AI. In fact, they all felt that they weren’t using AI enough in their respective roles. While each described some minimal usage of AI today in their work, they all also described the short and long-term implications of AI would change their work.

Nearly all felt that AI could reduce their administrative tasks. They noted that a large portion of their time is spent doing administration, which often takes time away from completing other important, strategic work. They talked about teaching machines how to do the administrivia, with hopes that the AI could do it more efficiently. Some examples included scheduling, project management, role assignments, and others.  

Although they thought that AI could help make their jobs more efficient, the respondents did not feel their jobs were at any risk of displacement. They all shared that their roles provided value that cannot be easily replaced by robots, or even other humans, for that matter. Their roles require specialized skills such as relationship building, critical thinking, and the ability to react to emotions. Today, we know that AI can identify acts of different behaviors. However, we do not have the current technology to teach robots how to react, behave, or emote – emotional intelligence.

Importance of Emotional Intelligence

As AI continues to progress, government and educational programs need to focus on developing the current and future workforce. We know that we can teach machines through applied pattern recognition and computational learning. However, AI can support, but not replace the emotional part of human interaction.  Skills like critical thinking, empathy, and dealing sensitively with other people will continue to grow in importance as other basic tasks will be replaced by AI. One of the respondents provided a great example of how we’ll continue to need human oversite and judgment:

We know that 2 + 2 = 4 because we know it. As the equations get bigger, we have to trust that the machine is giving you the correct answer. Still, if you put 2+2 in a machine and get 5 as an answer, you have to ask, ‘Is this right?’
— HR Professional

My biggest takeaway over the last 12 weeks is that AI is growing and with it, our thinking about how we transform our jobs with these new tools. While it will create new job categories and opportunities, it will also replace some work tasks that will help us be more productive, faster, and equipped. However, as AI becomes more present, we cannot lose sight of our skills – the skills that make us human and still very valuable at work – critical thinking, empathy, and dealing sensitively with other people – emotional intelligence.