Software has started writing poetry, sports stories and business news. IBM’s Watson is co-writing pop hits. Uber has begun deploying self-driving taxis on real city streets and, last month, Amazon delivered its first package by drone to a customer in rural England.
Add it up and you quickly realize that Donald Trump’s election isn’t the only thing disrupting society today. The far more profound disruption is happening in the workplace and in the economy at large, as the relentless march of technology has brought us to a point where machines and software are not just outworking us but starting to outthink us in more and more realms.
To reflect on this rapid change, I sat down with my teacher and friend Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, which advises companies on leadership and how to build ethical cultures, for his take.
“What we are experiencing today bears striking similarities in size and implications to the scientific revolution that began in the 16th century,” said Seidman. “The discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo, which spurred that scientific revolution, challenged our whole understanding of the world around and beyond us—and forced us as humans to rethink our place within it.”
We used science and reason to navigate our way forward, he added, so much so that “the French philosopher René Descartes crystallized this age of reason in one phrase: ‘I think, therefore I am.’” Descartes’ point, said Seidman, “was that it was our ability to ‘think’ that most distinguished humans from all other animals on earth.”
The technological revolution of the 21st century is as consequential as the scientific revolution, he argued, and it is “forcing us to answer a profound question we’ve never had to ask before: ‘What does it mean to be human in the age of intelligent machines?’”
If machines can compete with people in thinking, what makes humans unique? And what will enable us to continue to create social and economic value? The answer, he said, is the one thing machines will never have: “a heart.”
“It will be all the things that the heart can do,” he explained. “Humans can love, they can have compassion, they can dream. While humans can act from fear and anger, and be harmful, at their most elevated, they can inspire and be virtuous. And while machines can reliably interoperate, humans, uniquely, can build deep relationships of trust.”
We will still need manual labor, and people will continue working with machines to do extraordinary things. Seidman is simply arguing that the tech revolution will force humans to create more value with hearts and between hearts. I agree. When software controls more and more of our lives, people will seek out more human-to-human connections—all the things you can’t download but have to upload the old-fashioned way, one human to another.
Seidman reminded me of a Talmudic adage: “What comes from the heart, enters the heart.” Which is why even jobs that still have a large technical component will benefit from more heart. I call these STEMpathy jobs— jobs that combine STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills with human empathy, like the doctor who can extract the best diagnosis from IBM’s Watson on cancer and then best relate it to a patient.
Economies get labeled according to the predominant way people create value, pointed out Seidman. So, the industrial economy “was about hired hands. The knowledge economy was about hired heads. The technology revolution is thrusting us into ‘the human economy,’ which will be more about creating value with hired hearts—all the attributes that can’t be programmed into software, like passion, character and collaborative spirit.”•