Machines Are Smarter, but Humans Are Wiser: Novel and Adaptive Thinking
By James M. Fraleigh
The constant stream of new technological developments that augment our daily tasks makes the future difficult enough to predict. Even tougher to foresee is emergent behavior on the part of smart machines and autonomous systems, which now permeate most industries. Because these systems communicate so rapidly and often act on their own, a seemingly small change in one part of the network can have surprising and expensive consequences for an entire factory, office, or organization.
With more increasingly complex systems adopted each year, and just-in-time delivery making downtime costly, workers who can look beyond an instruction manual for solutions will be in great demand. These individuals have mastered novel and adaptive thinking—the ability to navigate through crises for which rote or rule-based responses either won’t help or don’t exist. It’s one of 10 vital skills described in Future Work Skills 2020, a report by the Institute for the Future for Apollo Research Institute.
Workers who possess novel and adaptive thinking skills will be far tougher to replace with smart systems, as computers are not yet able to diagnose emergent behavior with the nuance and creativity that humans possess. High-skill, abstract tasks, such as arguing a difficult legal case, conducting high-stakes negotiations, or reprogramming malfunctioning factory equipment after a software upgrade, are still best performed by people. And smart systems aren’t yet able to anticipate developing forces in society, such as the bankruptcies of financial firms and carmakers during the most recent recession, or the revolutionary activities that swept the Arab world in 2011.
In a volatile and unpredictable world, workers capable of swift innovation will be quite busy for the not-so-foreseeable future.
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James M. Fraleigh writes on a wide range of topics for Apollo Research Institute.