The impossible algorithm

Why AI will never be as complex as the human brain

Bill Osmond, a Prism practitioner of over a decade, discusses the value of personality diversity within the workplace.

Prism is the world’s most comprehensive neuroscience-based personality test. It’s used by organisations around the world like HSBC, Transport for London and Siemens to aid effective recruiting and team building.

Over the next decade, AI is going to continue to seep into our workplaces in more and more ways. While it’s unlikely that this will come in the form of an R2D2 character with a ‘personality’ as such, AI will have distinct traits that govern its decision-making. These traits will have a huge impact on workplace dynamics. Like any new co-worker, there will be some people who are drawn to the way AI thinks and others who find it difficult to work with.

“While it may be possible to identify a ‘personality type’ for AI, we will never be able to ‘type’ people as easily due to the depth of flexibility within the human brain.”

One indicator of how AI will behave are the typical traits of AI engineers: analytical, future-focused, curious, patient, high attention to detail, disciplined. All of these traits will have been consciously or subconsciously programmed into AI by their creators. While it may be possible to identify a ‘personality type’ for AI, we will never be able to ‘type’ people as easily due to the depth of flexibility within the human brain. Unlike an AI’s brain, the human mind is not following a set of instructions.

The difference can be easily illustrated if you look at AI within cars, and particularly the development of driverless cars. In a driverless car the AI sifts through heaps of data, and then instructs the car on how to act. It sifts through preprogrammed photographs of trees and roads and pedestrians and it responds to pre-programmed instructions.

What AI isn’t doing is considering the infinite possibilities that these trees and pedestrians have – it isn’t considering the unexpected. A child could run out in the road or a tree branch could fall under the weight of snow. One of the greatest assets in life, and the workplace, is to think beyond the boundaries of the expected.

AI is missing ‘the gamble factor’, or a gut instinct. It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor, business person or teacher, all fields benefit from the occasional deviation from normal. A way of thinking that says: ‘I know this isn’t what we used to do, or what we usually do, but let’s give it a try.’ Once AI gets to that level then it will be really reflective of human thinking. The more prominent AI becomes, the more human employees should be seeking to innovate and think differently.

So, what are some of the skills that people should be cultivating now to stay ahead of AI? In addition to ‘thinking differently’ when appropriate, people should build up their innately human qualities that are essential to good management: compassion, collaboration, warmth and understanding of people. Those will be difficult for AI to replicate.

If the future of the workplace were up to me, I’d say there should be ongoing training for employees to improve on their human qualities. AI will be a huge asset to the workforce, but we will always rely on people for their emotional intelligence, awareness of their own behaviour, ability to do things off the cuff, to tone it down or tone it up. People have a huge spectrum of differences in behaviour and I don’t know how that could be programmed.

Granted, AI is getting better at discerning what people are feeling based on their facial expressions. Neuropsychologist Tobias Loetscher, from the University of South Australia, has been conducting research into how much AI can learn about a person’s personality based on their facial expressions. It turns out, quite a lot.

Based purely on how someone moves their eyes AI can distinguish if they fall into one of the so-called ‘big five’ personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, and extraversion. It currently can’t do this with perfect accuracy, but researchers describe it as ‘reliable’. While this is hugely impressive (and a bit frightening!) even this level of understanding is extremely basic. People can’t be categorised as one of five personality traits – we are extremely complex.

Which is why with Prism we look at what people want to be and what’s holding them back from getting there. I look at hundreds of people’s completed Prism brain maps, and I’ve never come across two that are completely the same. Two people might look very similar on paper: they might both value completing tasks and have strong evaluation skills, but suddenly there’s a difference.

That difference could be that one has slightly more initiation drive or is significantly more supportive. No matter how big or small, this difference will dramatically change the way the person interacts.

This is where the problem with traditional ‘personality typing’ lies, and it’s why I don’t believe AI will be able to get a grasp on people any time soon. Prism offers one of the most robust perspectives on how people think that there is, but it’s still nowhere near as complex as the reality of how people think and what their motivations are.

People are also constantly evolving and adapting. The same person can take Prism three years apart and will have way higher innovating scores the second time around. This will be due to life circumstances or job circumstances that have forced them to start thinking differently. We’ve got to be wary of AI that will categorise people and not leave room for growth and change.


So, what are some key tips to help you and your employees thrive as AI becomes more ubiquitous?

1 Don’t put people in a box – don’t demand more determination from your team. Instead, be supportive and develop their potential.

2 Hone collaboration skills – stop relying so much on technology to get the job done and focus on how to get the best outcome by working together.

3 Develop presentation skills – so many people rely too heavily on technology when presenting. No amount of AI will connect with people the way eye contact and passion will.

My hope is that AI will lead to a more authentic, humane and enjoyable workplace. Perhaps in ten years I’ll be able to tell you how AI has changed people’s Prism scores and affected the way they work.

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