Collaborative Leadership Blog

Preserving Our Humanity in an AI World

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.

–Albert Einstein–

There has always been a “tug of war” between technological innovation and the ability of human beings, and organizations, to absorb it. 4 key technological trends need to be considered:

  • Job Replacement: Kai Fu Lee, an artificial intelligence expert, recently predicted that 40% of the world’s jobs will be replaced in the next 15 years by robots capable of automating tasks. Both blue and white collar professions will be affected.**
  • The Speed of Technological Change: It is estimated to increase a billion times in the next 30 years according to the tech experts at The Emerging Future
  • The Dark Side of Tech: There is a shadow side to technology that impinges on our freedoms and our ethical conduct towards others. Witness the Facebook/Cambridge Analytics scandal, the 8Chan dark net use of racist videos of the El Paso and Christchurch massacres, Wiki-Leaks and the violation of our national security—it’s the wild wild West
  • Double-Edged Tech: Every technological innovation that helps humanity also has an underbelly—we split the atom to produce energy, but nuclear warfare is an existential threat to humanity; we invented the automobile, but CO2 emissions threaten the survival of the human race

So how do we come to terms with the power of technology so that we can also retain our humanity? How do we ensure that human needs take primacy over technological imperatives? People are afraid they may lose their jobs or become obsolete; they are concerned abo ut the privacy of their data. When there is a major technological change at work, the people affected by it are left out of the decision-making, but have to deal with the consequences. There may also be fear about the impacts of the dark side of the internet and how it affects their family and our culture overall. It’s a leadership question, and while I don’t pretend to have a complete answer to this, here are 4 things to consider:

  • Ethics: In your code of ethics, leadership behavior, and work policies, address the primacy of human needs over the technological imperative—you need to know when to say “no” to a technology if it will negatively impact your workforce
  • Culture: The values of the company need to assert the primacy of people over technique, address the fear by focusing on building trust, which is then reinforced regularly across the organization
  • Strategy: Address the speed of technological change, AI, robotization, and the dark and double-edged nature of tech in the company’s strategic plans. How much change can your organization absorb and at what rate? What safeguards and protections need to be put in place to reassure your people. What are the implications of AI for the future of your workforce, and how will you address that without undermining morale and the productive energy of your workforce?
  • Ownership of Change: Whenever there is a major change, engage your workforce in the decision-making as well as the implementation process. People take care of what they own

We face uncertain times. Technological advances can both help us and hurt us. Whatever happens, we must assert the primacy of human needs over technological imperatives to ensure the dignity, respect, trust, and credibility of our workforces.


*Dr. Edward Marshall is an Adjunct Professor in Management at the Fuqua School of Business, and the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University; ICF certified executive coach, Lifetime Top 15 Trust Thought Leader, and author of the forthcoming book: The New Age of Collaboration: Leadership for the 21st Century, 2020.

**Source: Don Reisinger, “AI Expert Says Automation Could Replace 40% of Jobs in 15 Years,” Fortune, January 10, 2019