Leadership Skills for the Future:
Stay Ahead of the Robot Curve

Artificial-Intelligence-Leadership-SkillsCould you be replaced by a computer? Just because your leadership skills involve managing people and making decisions, don’t think you can’t be replaced by a machine. The competition between people and machines is not merely science fiction plot.

In February 2011, a three day marathon Jeopardy! game show pitted IBM’s “Watson” computer against two human champions, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Watson is an artificially intelligent computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language. It had access to 200 million pages of structured and unstructured content consuming four terabytes of disk storage including the full text of Wikipedia.

Even before the emcee Alex Trebec finished reading the clue, Watson’s 2,880 parallel processor cores began to divvy up the workload. At 33 billion operations per second, it could search 500 gigabytes of data, the equivalent of one million books, in the blink of an eye. It could also hit the buzzer in less than eight milliseconds, much faster than a human hand.

During the three seconds that it took to deliver the correct answer, various algorithms worked across multiple processors to return hundreds of hypothetical answers. Watson was programmed not to hit the buzzer unless it had a confidence level of at least 50 percent. By the end of the game, Watson had surpassed the previous champions’ winnings by almost twice as much, becoming the first nonhuman champion of Jeopardy!

In February 2013, IBM announced that Watson software system’s first commercial application would be for utilization management decisions in lung cancer treatment at Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center in conjunction with health insurance company WellPoint. IBM Watson’s business chief Manoj Saxena says that 90% of nurses in the field who use Watson now follow its guidance.

The Robot Curve will continue to take jobs away, and not just those in manufacturing. We’re going to have to find out where our leadership skills will retain their uniqueness and value in the future.

For sure, we are in a period of great change with disruptive innovations changing how we work and live. The tools and skills we’ve developed for the last era are inadequate to address the challenges of the next. Call it the “information age” if you will, but even that is an insufficient descriptor for understanding the skills we will need to master in the future world of work.

What leadership skills do you think you’ll need to develop in order to stay relevant and indispensable? I’d love to hear from you. You can contact me here and on LinkedIn.

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