Human competence vs. artificial intelligence.

By Christa Schwandtner, 17.09.2019

The digitisation of the work environment is moving forward at a fast pace. The automation of knowledge work means that in times of big data, intelligent IT systems are increasingly able to make decisions requiring analytical skills better than we humans ourselves. And in a reliable manner, in real time. As a consequence, many typical jobs are being replaced by digital innovations. Of course, this triggers the question of whether there will even be areas where humans can pit themselves against the machines. And which professions will even still exist over the next few years.

Professor Helmut Karner, business consultant and co-founder of Föhrenbergkreis, believes that, in spite of automation, our work will not come to an end. He sees the future of human competences in the development of concepts and creativity-enhancing areas: teamwork, emotions and empathy. “In a few areas, humans are still superior to machines, particularly in creativity: Emotional or typical human competences will play a very central role in the future.”

From an academic point of view, Dr Birgit Feldhusen, head of the “Agile Organisations & Collective Leadership” course at Danube University Krems: “Artificial intelligence cannot question its own way of thinking. It further develops in the mental framework that we give it. However, it could possibly make available applications which make it easier for us humans to question our ways of thinking.” In the acquisition and optimisation of these competences, artificial intelligence can be helpful, but it will not succeed in possessing them itself.

More specifically, the two authors, Adam J. Gutstein, Vice President of business consultancy company PwC, and his colleague John Sviokla, head of the thinktank “The Exchange” at PwC, present in detail the superior human abilities. In Harvard Business Manager (January 2019 issue), the two present seven competences which humans master better than machines both now and will do so in the foreseeable future as well.



Storytelling in bullet points: People can be moved to action with stories. Above all when we use an effective communication cocktail made up of explanations, facts, rhetoric and science, and appeal to the emotions of the listener. Think about Steve Jobs who presented the first iPod with the promise of 1000 songs in your trouser pocket. The ability to stimulate an image-rich language and the power of imagination is part of human nature and machines will struggle to mimic it.



Successful communication requires the corresponding content. If you are an expert in your field, you are well ahead of the machine and are always in demand. Even if you can find out everything these days using a search engine, the demand for experts is greater than ever. The difference lies in the dynamics of the subject area: A human expert can combine contents and specialist knowledge, and thus pass on new knowledge to others.



Automated systems can only take action and make decisions within the framework defined by the developer. They will only recognise connections that are known to them. This extensive understanding of context can, as before, only be perceived and assessed by a human. The creative innovation of humans is required to expand this framework.


Emotional competence

There have now been experiments where artificial intelligence attempts to interpret human emotions. But the human feelings are a complex topic – it becomes even more complex when interpersonal relationships and group dynamics come into play. It is almost impossible for artificial intelligence to develop emotional competence in order to recognise emotions in others and to react to them accordingly. It can neither engage in emotionally complex situations, nor persuade other people.



Computer support has contributed greatly to improving the quality of education. However, machines cannot individually cater to the potential of the employee and support this. In personal collaboration, points of weakness or gaps in knowledge can be better identified and counteracted accordingly.



Relationships can be complicated, but first and foremost, they give us humans support, confirmation and self-confidence. We usually maintain our strongest relationships with our family and friends. Professionally, we talk about networks – mainly more superficial than in a private setting, but still essential for success. Are virtual contacts on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. not enough? Not a chance: The best networks and relationships are still maintained personally.


Moral compass

Even if machines are efficient, there are no algorithms which decide according to ethical values. Artificial intelligence is refused the ability to make a moral decision because of a lack of emotional competence. For humans – above all those in management positions – a well-functioning moral compass is becoming more and more important in a world full of automated processes.

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