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Unlocking human potential in the Age of AI

By , co-founder, Finance and Operations Director, Imizizi.
07 Jul 2023

The growing sophistication of artificial intelligence (AI) should not be seen as a threat, but an invitation to invest in human potential. Getting this right is essential.

Yolisa Tshabalala.
Yolisa Tshabalala.

The launch of ChatGPT last year captured everybody’s imagination. Suddenly we were all living in the future we had previously imagined. Sure, the technology is far from comparable to human intelligence, but it’s clear that’s where we are headed. In response, there has been an upsurge of disquiet about the impact of increasingly intelligent technology on society and, especially business.

Not without reason, the spectre of job losses is one that has been raised. Although the adoption of cutting-edge technologies like AI is just one factor, the World Economic Forum’s “The Future of Jobs Report 2023” notes that 23% of jobs will “churn” (or be lost) in the next five years. The job categories that will decline the fastest relative to their size are clerical and secretarial roles.

We should not focus on this figure, scary though it might be, especially for a country whose unemployment reached 32.9% in the first three months of 2023, with youth unemployment sitting at an unbelievable 46.5%. Rather, we should internalise another important finding from the WEF’s report: technology will be responsible not only for spurring the rapid decline in clerical and secretarial type roles, but technology will also be the rocket fuel behind high growth in other job categories. The latter include AI and machine learning specialists, followed by specialist roles in sustainability, business intelligence and information security, renewable energy and solar.

To these jobs directly tied to the new technologies, we should also be adding indirect jobs. What many people are forgetting is that AI, at least as it is currently, has significant limitations—it simply cannot do a whole range of things that humans are particularly good at. For example, any roles that require empathy will remain best done by humans, which would cover anything involving service as well as teaching, counselling and so on.

An additional point is that the jobs that are most likely to be replaced are ones that are repetitive in nature—jobs particularly suited to machines and that humans find least stimulating even though their very dullness makes them the archetypal “comfort zone”. The fact that machines can take over this drudge work—and typically do it better—is an opportunity to help people reach their full potential as humans.

As an example, AI could handle a great deal of the typical recruitment process in a company, from drafting ads to shortlisting CVs and more. Freed from much of this, skilled HR professionals would be able to devote themselves to work that adds more value to the process or be deployed elsewhere in the organisation.

Navigating change

This brave new world of humans freed from drudgery and able to undertake more valuable work is achievable, but it will require a concerted effort to do so. While the old saying that we only use 10% of our brains has been debunked, it’s still beyond contention that most people do not take advantage of their brain’s full potential—that’s why we now have brain coaches!

Specifically, workers will have to become used to working alongside intelligent software, and become adept at doing what the software cannot (yet) do. Doing that will require a new focus not only on acquiring skills but also on brain health and function.

What I’m arguing is that AI offers us the opportunity to reach our full potential provided we can make the necessary adjustment. After much thought, I have come to believe that, in the end (and as is so often the case) change management is going to play a key role. People respond to change differently; organisations will have to play a proactive role in helping employees to make the change. Change is so often handled as a top-down process but if the introduction of AI is not to become jobs bloodbath, then a properly executed change management strategy will be required.

The stakes are high. It is estimated that by 2030, a lack of skills will mean that around 85 million jobs will be unfilled globally, which translates into a loss of $8.5 trillion. I’m not quite sure how accurate these figures are, but the basic point is incontestable: to compete successfully in the AI Age, organisations need employees who have the right skills and are empowered to make full use of their brains.

It’s a challenge, but also an opportunity. I call on both the private and public sector to seize it, and bridge the skills gap by unlocking the human potential our country has in such abundance by upskilling and reskilling our people, especially young people. 

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