When AlphaGo, an artificially intelligent computing system built by researchers at Google, beat Go champion Lee Sedol in Seoul this month, the world looked on in amazement.

AlphaGo made a surprising move in the first match, ultimately winning four of the five matches and delivering another victory for the machines. 

"Remarkable," a Wired story concluded, "when you consider that people have been playing Go for more than 2,500 years." And that there are more possible combinations in the game than atoms in the universe.

We Are Surrounded By Algorithms

The exponential acceleration of tools like Google's machine learning technologies doesn't stop in the game room.

From weather forecasts, Apple's Siri, self-driving cars to Google search predictions, we're already aware of the subtle ways AI impacts our lives with algorithms that can react and respond in real time.

Just as automation revolutionized the assembly line and eliminated many manufacturing jobs, the same is occurring with advances in big data computing power and the traditional white collar workforce.

As computers continue to infringe on humans' territory, what skills will the future workplace need to stay competitive?

Finally, A Use for That Philosophy Degree

A global consensus is around emotional intelligence, or EQ — a term first brought to the masses in 1995 by Daniel Goleman, a researcher on emotional intelligence in organizations at Rutgers University. It includes characteristics such as self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation and empathy. 

While machines can do complex thinking faster, repeatedly and without getting tired, it lacks — at least for foreseeable future — a human's intuition. Some call this emotional intelligence.

As highly valued as STEM education, coders and data crunchers are right now, some see the trend moving toward fewer of those jobs in the future. Surprisingly, this group includes technology companies. 

LinkedIn data indicates that liberal arts grads are joining the tech workforce more rapidly than engineering and computer science grads. Between 2010 and 2013, the growth of liberal arts majors entering the technology industry from undergrad outpaced those with technical majors by 10 percent. And of the recent liberal arts grads the company examined, as many as two in five now work at an Internet or software company.

"The philosophy behind liberal arts, which encourages diversity of skills and flexible critical thinking, transfers to the workplace in various forms," LinkedIn wrote in a blog post about the study.

Skills like empathy, analyzing, writing and relating to others are more likely to be developed in humanities courses like philosophy and history than in the hard sciences. Humanities, after all, are the study of people. It's natural those majors are likely to produce graduates adept at understanding people and using language effectively. Those are skills that are the hardest to computerize or outsource.

Working With the Machines

"As all the mechanics get built into our world, the real opportunities for people lies in higher-order thinking," says Bryan Mattimore, co-founder of the Growth Engine Co., a creativity consulting and ideation facilitation company. "It's the ability to communicate ideas within an organization but to also using emotional intelligence to create the right products and services for a target audience."

A good example lies in the advertising world where computers are now "programmatic" buying to help professionals select inventory and targets automatically like demographics, location and taste. That frees up time for marketers to focus on creating more engaging content to connect with their customer in new ways.

"But to make the link, you need the help of observation and psychology to embody and empathize what those needs are," Mattimore says.

However robot-driven the future looks like, emotional intelligence has a place in the here and now. Goleman argues emotional intelligence is twice as important than intellectual intelligence or technical understanding when it comes to top performance.

TalentSmart research says emotional intelligence accounts for 60 percent of job performance for supervisors through to CEOs, meanwhile 90 percent of top job performers score high on emotional intelligence.

Exercise Your Emotional Intelligence

So how can we build and exercise our emotional intelligence, with or without a liberal arts degree? Harvey Deutschendorf, an emotional intelligence expert, points out these areas to focus on:

  1. Increase your self-awareness
  2. Develop your listening skills
  3. Show a genuine interest in the people you lead
  4. Develop the ability to manage your (and others') emotions
  5. Develop a strong sense of appreciation

While these may seem like common sense, they are more often “nice to have,” if not altogether suppressed attributes.

"The main currencies for this era are not new," says Ayelet Baron, author of Our Journey to Business Common Sense. "They are simply making a comeback like the two-way conversation and listening. What is becoming of increased value are trust, relationships and the ability to connect deeply in communities. To live in the human era, emotional intelligence is key."

And in an increasingly machine-constructed era, emotional intelligence just may be the winning ticket.

Title image by Brooke Cagle