The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) means that future in-demand skills will be decreasingly technical and increasingly emotive, creating a “feeling economy”, according to research.

In a paper published today in the journal California Management Review, an international team of researchers from the University of Maryland and National Taiwan University reviewed ten years of data on millions of US workers from the US Department of Labor.

They identified a significant shift between 2006 to 2016 towards tasks that required greater emotional intelligence, a move they attribute to increasing automation of more technical and repetitive tasks.

They predict that as AI becomes more sophisticated, growing numbers of jobs requiring problem solving and data analysis will be automated, increasing the focus on emotive skills in the future and so creating the feeling economy.

“It means that if humans want jobs, they better get good at feeling. Things like interpersonal relationships and emotional intelligence will be much more important,” said Ronald Rust, marketing professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business,

“This is something that is going to hit people before they know it. It’s already happening.

“We’re already seeing the shift in feeling as being more important, not only in terms of employment growth, but in terms of compensation growth. There is greater compensation growth in feeling than there is in thinking.”

Changing nature of jobs in the feeling economy

While a demand for emotive skills may seem restricted to certain roles, the researchers argue that the feeling economy will impact all roles.

“This is really across the board – you name a job and we can show a shift from thinking to feeling,” said Rust, giving the example of a financial analyst, which the researchers found has already become far more feeling-focused in the last decade

“People are using more AI-powered tools that can do a lot more of their analytical work for them, and what’s left in their job is to hold people’s hands and to reassure them about things like stock market dips.”

The researchers argue that this will continue to change, requiring changes in management approaches that place far greater importance on empathy and emotional intelligence – an approach that, they said, would yield higher rewards than for companies that continue with traditional approaches.

This also has implications for education, moving away from the mindset that technical skills need to be the primary focus. Instead the researchers argue that developing social skills and emotional intelligence need to be key educational goal.

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“You certainly don’t need to worry about things like multiplication tables,” said Rust.

“You can do that on a machine, and everybody’s cell phone will do that for them. That kind of skill is just useless.”


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