Why the “U” in Human will matter even more in an AI infused world

There has been a lot of debate recently on whether artificial intelligence (AI) is going to take over the world.  The utopian view – articulated by Bill Gates and others – is that it will become the ultimate form of enhancing human potential.  The dystopian view – upheld by Elon Musk – is that it will the ultimate form of human destruction.  But what about the impact of AI on the future of leadership?

To be a strong and effective leader, three timeless traits are essential: IQ, EQ and CQ.

  • Intelligence Quotient (IQ) was historically been the central trait effective leaders were measured upon. The term ‘IQ’ was coined more than a century ago by German Psychologist William Stern as a way to quantify and compare the results of multiple standardized tests that focused on mathematical, logical and analytical reasoning. In many cases, high IQs are still attributed as essential ingredients to professional success.
  • Emotional Quotient (EQ) was introduced as a leadership trait by Rutgers Psychologist, Daniel Goleman. In his piece, “What makes a leader,” he suggested that while IQ was essential, it was simply becoming table-stakes for leadership. In the new world where employee engagement matters more than ever, leaders need to have a high EQ to relate to others on an empathic level. EQ is different than IQ, as it’s a rare combination of self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation that spans beyond money or status. To obtain a high EQ, it’s crucial to have strong empathetic and social skills.
  • Cultural Quotient (CQ) is defined as the natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures.As  businesses become more global, operating across many countries with countless languages, this specific form of social skills is becoming more desirable as a leadership trait. Tsedal Neely describes it as a global work orientation, which consists of five attitudes and behaviors that drive success.

Today,  a leader’s smarts are often a combination of all three – quantitative reasoning and logic, emotional understanding and empathy and cultural context, applied uniquely to each leadership situation. Yet, with AI on the rise, IQ can be potentially democratized. Advancements in technology allow for computers to pull facts, figures and information of all sorts in mere seconds. This real-time ability to generate data, coupled with algorithms and deep learning, makes this aspect of human intelligence mainstream, affordable and potentially available to anyone with the touch of a button.

However, emotional and cultural intelligence are fundamental parts of what makes us human. At a high-level, these are the values that define us as individuals. It defines the “U” in human. But can you teach human values like empathy and cultural intelligence to a robot?

Cultural Intelligence is much more than simply knowing multiple languages and being well traveled. Emotional Intelligence is much more than recognizing human emotion and relating to others easily. While AI is beginning to push into the realms of both, there is enormous potential in the way it develops. For example, new businesses are being created around interpreting human reaction. One significant facial recognition company offers “Emotion as a Service,” identifying, “anger, sadness, disgust, joy, surprise, fear and contempt,” simply by using data.

It’s become vital in today’s global landscape to interact with other people successfully despite fundamental differences in language, background and location. The people we work with on a daily basis embody cultural roots of every kind: societal, religious, generational to name a few. Often times our misunderstandings generally have less to do with logic than with creating and interpreting different frames of reference. I recently completed a project across a team of diverse colleagues, men and women from Germany, United Arab Emirates, South Africa, Brazil, Sri Lanka and the U.S. I found that cultural and emotional context mattered more than I imagined. As the team worked towards creating an action plan, the choice of words, tonality, delivery and facial expression were all interpreted differently by every person in the room. What one person felt was rational and objective, another felt was condescending.  There are hundreds if not thousands of these interactions each one of us goes through every day. In every interaction, a new set of context needs to be considered.

Advancements in AI have already provided us with an unprecedented set of advanced intelligence and tools, but ultimately, it will be up to humans to interpret and act on that context. Applying cultural intelligence to an interaction might be incredibly subtle – so instantaneous, so complex, that even the best machine-based pattern recognition is not going to be able to handle the challenge. Let’s face it, it’s not up to Siri to tell us what someone else is thinking and how likely they are to behave a certain way in the next moment. Our need for cultural awareness and adaptation will only grow in importance as our pocket assistants and technologies become increasingly capable of knowledge and analysis.  Of all the unique human dimensions and abilities, it may be our EQ and CQ that make AI an art, not just a science.


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