Why We Need “Female Skills” to Survive the Robot Age

The human skills that will be in demand in the future workplace are not the classical ones but rather those that we have traditionally seen as “feminine”.

I know it sounds pretentious to speak of the distinction between “female” and “male” skills today. You know, the idea that women are better at soft skills such as empathy and caring for others, while men excel at doing the hard work in making money, crunching numbers and building bridges.

It’s what Lewis Hyde in his remarkable book ‘The Gift’ describes as labor and the gift economy of the artist (feminine domain) as opposed to work and the market economy of the professional (masculine domain).

Yet, although the calendar says 2017, remnants of this past dichotomy keep surfacing. The polemical memo from a Google software engineer arguing that women are underrepresented in tech because of biological differences from men is a recent example of how this distinction is still kept alive.

It is ironic, that the statement just mentioned comes from an employee at a company that is pushing the limits of artificial intelligence. Because when we look into a future where AI is taking over jobs and replacing human skills such as driving and bookkeeping, then “feminine skills” are exactly what we need tap into in order to thrive as human beings. Only with them can we add value to the work we do in the future.

Why?

Artificial intelligence is very good at particularly the “hard skills” that we have assigned as a masculine trait in the past. The ones measured by IQ. And it is not very good at the “soft, feminine skills” measured by emotional intelligence.

Just think about how AI systems such as IBM Watson and Google DeepMind has already beaten the world’s best players in games that favor a high IQ like Chess, Jeopardy and Go. And why stop at games? AI is also being used to help doctors diagnose cancer and lawyers to find court cases with precedent for a current case — again tasks that rely on IQ rather than EQ.

When I ask AI experts, CEO’s and professors, they all point towards this trend.

Terry Sejnowski, the renowned pioneer in neural networks and computational neuroscience and adjunct professor from UCSD, mentions empathy as one of the top three human skills that will be most valuable in the future when I asked him.

Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban recently said that he’d rather study philosophy than accounting if he were to go back to college today.

Instead of choosing to become adept at solving narrow, technical tasks, the future will require us to tap into our ‘feminine powers’. We need to practice empathy on a daily basis, show generosity and care for others.

But first, we have to break up with the notion that such ideas have anything to do with gender.

Rather, as technology is showing us, they’re exactly what makes us uniquely human.

About Elías Lundström
Journalist, founder of Beat the Robot.

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