What is the role for people in an increasingly automated workplace? As artificial intelligence grows more sophisticated, technology is set to become even more prominent in almost every sector of industry.
This has an impact on the way we all work, with many jobs continuing to evolve. But people are, and will remain, absolutely crucial to the success of businesses.
The industry I work in – retail banking – provides a good illustration. At HSBC, we are investing heavily in technology, creating apps that enable customers to manage their finances more effectively, and developing programs that help safeguard them from the risk of financial crime.
But our business also needs people. Not only people with technical skills to design the technology – but also people who can help us understand the problems we are trying to solve in the first place. Who can make a connection with our customers, enabling us to understand what they are thinking and feeling. And who can make the leaps of imagination needed to design new products and better services. That's why our aim is to blend the best technology with the power of our people.
There are, we think, three broad areas of human skills that artificial intelligence cannot replicate. These will continue to be immensely valuable even as automation advances further.
Curiosity, creativity, communication
The first is curiosity. Every business needs people to ask questions and delve deeper into the reasons and rationale for doing things. This could mean analysing customer behaviour from a new angle, or exploring new sources of data and information to inform the way the business is managed.
The second is creativity. Digital programs have almost limitless capabilities when it comes to analysis, but are not capable of true imagination. Businesses need people to drive innovation, to recognise changing customer aspirations, and to develop new products and services.
The third is communication. Listening, empathy, and relationship-building are vital for making a connection with customers, as well as for building a shared sense of direction inside a company. Communications skills across a wide range of media – visual, spoken, written – will continue to be highly valued in tomorrow's workforce.
Over and above these skills, people are capable of exercising judgement. Even the most advanced artificial intelligence cannot ask: "Is this the right thing to do?" An ability to make decisions that balance the needs of customers, regulators, shareholders and employees is pivotal to the long-term success of any business.
In other words, human skills will continue to make the difference between good and great when it comes to business performance. Companies of the future will continue to need much more than the right tech. They will need the right people, too.
Charlie Nunn is Chief Executive, Retail Banking and Wealth Management, HSBC