“If in your role as _____________, you can be replaced by artificial intelligence, you should be.” I heard this sentence a couple of months ago and the blank was filled in with “teacher.” Since this time, in conversations about artificial intelligence (AI) from Dubai to Austin to Hong Kong, I have heard the blank filled in with doctor, lawyer, driver, etc.

Statements like this can make an AI-filled future feel very threatening. But as Prof. John Helliwell, Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of British Columbia, reminded the participants of the World Government Summit (WGS), our AI “future” is already here. According to Halliwell, “AI is currently in charge in energy, utilities, the military, stock markets, content curation, and more.” While the intervention of AI has been highly concerning at times, such as with the Flash Crash of 2010, the remarks of Klaus Schwab, Founder & Executive Chairman – World Economic Forum, reminded WGS participants of the powerful, positive potential for AI. As Schwab put it, it is possible that words such as “tumor, traffic accident, and organ failure will disappear” as a result of innovations in AI.

Notwithstanding the promise of better and healthier lives, we are still left with the question, “What about work?”

Who will be relevant at work in the age of AI, for surely we humans will never be able to calculate, store, or recall as quickly as even the most common technology today?

One simple answer lies in the distinction between a puzzle and a mystery.

Malcom Gladwell, best-selling author and writer for the New Yorker, shared the thoughts of Gregory Treverton, former chair of the National Intelligence Council, in distinguishing between the two. Very simply stated, Gladwell offered the difference between treating prostate cancer 20 years ago and now to illuminate the contrast. Previously, prostate cancer was noticed when the doctor saw a tumor. The answer was surgery. Preventative medicine now includes a PSA test which means the doctor must be an analyst. She must determine the appropriate cut-off for reading the PSA, how many slices are required with the biopsy, what is the appropriate follow-up pharmaceutical recommendation, how does this all fit with personal patient context, etc. etc. etc. A clear puzzle, requiring limited information gathering and appropriate action, has been replaced by a mystery, requiring sophisticated human judgements regarding the best course of action amidst a sea of information. The mystery of current day medicine requires uniquely human wisdom and judgement supported by the best information and tools that AI and other technology can provide.

We can solve puzzles we never dreamed of solving before the advent of AI. But to solve mysteries we need humans.

What does this mean for learning? A future in which learning is fully supported with AI will require professionals who can fiercely and successfully face down the mysteries of the totality of learning and development, while AI handles sophisticated, but routinized learning tasks. This bifurcation holds the promise of extraordinary professional empowerment, liberating learning professionals to curate personalized experiences based on their knowledge of individual learners, create vibrant learning cultures with their insights on human development, inspire motivated learners with a keen understanding of human performance, and create mutually satisfying relationships that generate well-being and resilience.

As professionals, we all must be more than technology. In the age of AI, there simply is no room for those of us who can’t, or won’t, bring our uniquely human potential to work. If we don’t, it will be our roles filling in the blank.

(More posts coming soon about educating learners in this world.)