Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

Anticipating the Feeling Economy

A woman displays a variety of emotions.
Workers with emotional intelligence will be highly prized as artificial intelligence continues to proliferate.

Workers looking over their shoulders in angst at the proliferation of artificial intelligence (AI) may have a consolation: if they're emotionally intelligent, they're going to be prized in the new AI economy, according to researchers at University of Maryland and National Taiwan University.

"If humans want jobs, they better get good at feeling," says Roland Rust, Distinguished University Professor, David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing, and Executive Director of the Center for Excellence in Service & Center for Complexity in Business at the University of Maryland. A member of a research team that studied the coming 'Feeling Economy', Rust says, "Things like interpersonal relationships and emotional intelligence will be much more important."

The research team found that jobs in 2016 required a much greater depth of emotional intelligence and empathy than did jobs a decade before. Financial analysts, for example, whose number-crunching prowess and insights have pretty much been usurped by automation, are now highly valued if they're able to offer authentic emotional support for their clients.

Specifically, the researchers found that the 'feeling tasks' associated with financial advisory services were considered 20.5% more valuable in 2016 as compared to 2006. In contrast, 'thinking tasks' declined a bit in perceived value over the decade, down 6.3% in 2016 in importance as compared to 2006.

Day to day, those trends manifest in a decreased need for financial advisors to have exemplary skills at getting, processing, and analyzing data, given that computers increasingly assumed those tasks. Instead, personal advisors greatly skilled at establishing and maintaining interpersonal relationships were more highly valued, according to the researchers.

"What's left in their job is to hold people's hands and to reassure them about things like stock market dips," Rust says.

Interestingly, the researchers unearthed similar findings for professions that might seem at first blush to be virtually immune to the demand for greater emotional intelligence, including chemists and biophysicists. Specifically, the researchers found emotional intelligence was virtually an afterthought in the job descriptions for those two professions in 2006, but surged in significance a decade later, as employers of biochemists and biophysicists became much more interested in hiring staff that excelled at training and teaching others, as well as in guiding, directing, and motivating subordinates.

Even computer science, a profession that prizes highly rational, highly technical, and often highly dispassionate thinking, will not be immune to the Feeling Economy, according to the researchers. "Our theory would predict that as AI continues to acquire thinking capabilityi.e., cognitive reasoning, not just machine learningit can assume more thinking tasks that will reduce the importance of thinking tasks to computer scientists," says Ming-Hui Huang, a member of the research team and Distinguished Professor of Electronic Commerce in the Department of Information Management at National Taiwan University.

Granted, "The days that emotional intelligence and empathy will be prized more than thinking intelligence will arrive later for computer scientists" than for financial advisors, "but we predict that the day will come, once the reasoning capability of AI is mature enough," Huang says.

Adds Rust, "More and more of the technical parts of computer scienceprogramming, system designwill be done increasingly by AI, leaving computing workers to focus on the people side:  Interpersonal relationships and leadership."

It's all part of a gradual shift from the "Thinking Economy," which for decades has rewarded cognitive skills, to the "Feeling Economy," according to the researchers, who say the Feeling Economy will flourish in coming years, given that AI is not expected to outperform human beings in subtle skills like empathy, emotion management, and inspiration for many years.

It's a premise that makes perfect sense to Kay Turner, vice president for human resources and Title IX at Fordham University, who said, "It has been my experience as a human resources professional and labor/employment attorney that organizations — irrespective of the sector — that understand the value of emotional intelligence always outperform those that do not. Managing your feelings and behaviors, as well as recognizing how your emotions affect your behavior and how your behaviors impact the feelings and behaviors of others, will no longer be a great skill set to have; it will be the skill set to have."

The researchers unearthed the growing value of emotional intelligence on the job by studying data from the U.S. Department of Labor detailing the kinds of jobs people do, along with the variety of tasks associated with those jobs. They broke down those tasks into physical tasks, thinking tasks, and feeling tasks, and found that across the board, the importance of feeling tasks grew significantly between 2006 and 2016.

"This is something that is going to hit people before they know it," says Rust. "It's already happening," he adds. "We're already seeing the shift in feeling as being more important, not only in terms of employment growth, but in terms of compensation growth."

In practice, gearing up for the Feeling Economy will see employers giving preference to managers who are much more people-oriented and are skilled at enabling AI and staff to work as a team, according to the researchers.

However, some workers will also need to realize that as AI becomes ever more integrated in the workplace, some jobs may simply disappear, according to Moshe Vardi, who is University Professor and Karen Ostrum George Distinguished Service Professor in Computational Engineering at Rice University, where he is leads an Initiative on Technology, Culture, and Society.

In that new reality, those workers whose jobs are eliminated will need to be open to learning new skills if they want to stay employed, Vardi says. "For example, our aging population requires more and more people to work in caregiving, and we are very far from being able to automate these jobs," he says. "I think most people would agree that caregiving requires emotional intelligence."

Moreover, some workers may need to make peace with the fact that as 'Thinking Economy' jobs become scarcer, their incomes in the 'Feeling Economy' often gleaned from different kinds of jobsmay look anemic in comparison. "The 'Feeling Economy' often pays less well," Vardi says. "For example, caregiving jobs typically pay half as much as manufacturing jobs. Losing one-half of one's income is a major dislocation for most people. In fact, the dramatic drop in labor-force participation by working-class men over the past generation is often explained by their refusal to take jobs that they consider to be low-paying jobs."

Vardi predicts many men will have a tough time migrating to the 'Feeling Economy' for jobs that have traditionally been held by women. "They are sometimes called 'pink-collar jobs'," Vardi says. "Men are often reluctant to take such jobs, for cultural/psychological reasons.

"One may scoff at such cultural traditions," Vardi says, "but people are not widgets, and cannot be easily moved from job to job."

Joe Dysart is an Internet speaker and business consultant based in Manhattan, NY, USA

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