The Importance of Critical Thinking In the Age of Artificial Intelligence
Updated: Dec 3, 2019
By now, the idea that Artificial Intelligence is changing the workforce is a familiar and accepted concept. With media headlines filled with the news of increased atomization everywhere from factories to restaurants, the future of jobs is seemingly ever more uncertain. Even tech moguls approach these developments with trepidation. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has called for a robot tax to limit atomization, and CEO of Tesla Elon Musk is in favour of universal basic income to counteract the anticipated widespread unemployment that his innovations may spur.[i] However, the overall response to these changes is very mixed, with economists and tech experts equally populating the optimistic and pessimistic sides of the question.
Whether you see artificial intelligence as positive or negative, the reality is that it is coming to change the landscape of the workplace. In order to adapt to these changes and incorporate AI successfully into existing business models, corporations and educational institutions will need to figure out how to balance the combined powers of artificial and human intelligence.
The Problem: Artificial Intelligence Is Coming
The reality is that the integration of artificial intelligence into the workplace is creating an economic and societal shift that scholars are already comparing to the Industrial Revolution.[ii] A McKinsey Global Institute report from 2017 found that “half of today’s work activities could be automated by 2055, but this could happen up to 20 years earlier or later.”[iii] It is these kinds of studies and statistics that have everyone from small-business owners to CEOs panicking about what this means for their companies.
The Reality: Humans Can Still Outperform
The core reason that AI appears to threaten the job market is because it is said to outperform human thinking. Some argue that AI can also compete in certain areas of highly-skilled and subjective fields such as medicine. The initial stages of diagnosis which include gathering and analysing data can easily be done by artificial intelligence.[iv] In addition, some believe that AI can surpass human doctors by eliminating personal bias and remaining completely up-to date on medical advancements.[v] However, despite this evidence, the reality is that artificial intelligence cannot truly outperform human thinking due to the subjective, ever-changing, and highly individual nature of most scenarios. Where AI fails to compete is in the learning process by which individuals are constantly taking in new information and expanding their personal databases (i.e.: their brains). Because AI cannot independently “develop new context and learn like humans,” they are inherently “human-dependent.”[vi]
The continued importance of uniquely human cognitive abilities means that the future of the workplace isn’t likely to see a science-fiction-style robot takeover. Instead, the new workplace landscape will be about the optimal power of human and artificial intelligence in combination. Studies suggest that artificial intelligence will create significant employment opportunities for “medium to high-skilled workers.”[vii] A Capgemini study of nearly 1000 organizations which have implemented artificial intelligence found that, for the majority, AI “hasn’t negatively impacted jobs.”[viii] Furthermore, “4 out of 5 executives […] say that AI has created new job roles.”[ix]
In addition, a McKinsey study looked at the potential for job creation over the coming decades across a number of industries. On a global scale, by 2030, 50-85 million jobs may be generated from higher health and education spending, while 20-50 million could be created in the development and deployment of new technologies.[x] Given economic, social, and technological changes, the study estimates that 75-375 million people “may need to switch occupational categories and learn new skills.”[xi] While many low-level jobs will be automated by AI, the suggestion is that workers will be displaced to other areas of the workplace rather than left unemployed.
What Does This Mean For Employers and Institutions?
To balance the mix of human and artificial intelligence in the workplace, employers and educational institutions will need to “focus on skills and capabilities that artificial intelligence has trouble replicating.”[xii] These inherently include the PACIER building blocks of critical thinking: problem-solving, analysis, creative thinking, interpretation, evaluation, and reasoning. These skills all demand a level of cognitive functioning which exceed the abilities of artificial intelligence. Already, critical thinking skills are widely cited as not only the most effective tools of the uniquely human mind, but also as one of the most in-demand skills in the future job market.[xiii]
With this in mind, educational institutions can no longer focus solely on traditional academics. Soft skills and complex cognitive abilities like critical thinking are now an essential part of a well-rounded advanced education. As we’ve already seen, “workers of the future will spend more time on activities that machines are less capable of […] the skills and capabilities required will also shift, requiring more social and emotional skills and more advanced cognitive capabilities, such as logical reasoning and creativity.”[xiv] Educators will need to assess and develop critical thinking skills in schools and universities to adequately prepare their students for the future workplace and improve student outcomes after graduation.
Employers, on the other hand, will be faced with a new set of challenges as they redistribute labour and develop new ways for human and artificial intelligence to work together. Employers will want to retain their employees with the strongest critical thinking skills and transition those workers into newly created positions. Companies will need to place greater emphasis on hiring and developing creative thinkers. In addition, the fluid and changing job positions created by artificial intelligence mean that employers will want to foster the development of creative thinking skills which will allow their employees to be more adaptable in moving between positions.
The Solution: Critical Thinking Assessments
The best way to asses and develop critical thinking skills among students and staff alike is with critical thinking assessments. These assessments are designed to measure and analyse each of the six PACIER skills. Once an assessment is complete, employees and students will have access to a series of online exercises to help them develop the specific areas in which they need to improve.
Critical thinking assessments can help employers and managers navigate workplace transitions by determining which employees have the strongest critical thinking skills in certain areas and how those staff members can contribute to the company in new ways. In addition, they are a powerful recruitment tool that can help identify innovative, creative, intelligent, and complex thinkers. Whether an employer is looking to transition existing staff or recruit new employees, critical thinking assessments are the best way to identify and nurture individuals who can both supplement and outperform artificial intelligence.
For educational institutions, critical thinking assessments are an effective way of measur