The rise of AI makes critical thinking skills essential at work

Guest post by Chris Griffiths

Artificial Intelligence is getting more air time than ever before. The explosion of ChatGPT3, and now the incoming tide of GPT4, has awakened wider society to the vast possibilities of an AI-powered world. But what does that mean for the future of work, and will these changes ultimately render humans irrelevant?

It’s no secret that AI has the potential to revolutionise the way we operate at work, but did you know that critical thinking will be integral to making the most of those changes?

The necessity for critical thinking abilities in this era is twofold – not only will it provide the ability to identify potential errors thrown up by AI, it will also be required to make the output from AI useful in the first place. As AI lacks subjective experience, it cannot express authentic preference or opinion.

Thus, the onus is on individuals to discern what is truly helpful and the importance of critical thinking skills will subsequently skyrocket in this new AI era.

At the foundational level, AI is nothing more than a set of complex algorithms filled with a vast amount of data. While it can work incredibly efficiently to reorganise that data, it cannot produce truly “new” information on its own. In other words, had humans not created the knowledge which AI is trained on, AI could not function independently. However, this doesn’t mean we should underestimate the power of AI, as it still has the ability to revolutionise and disrupt the workplace. And it certainly will do so in the years to come.

Ultimately, although AI can analyse data and spot patterns, it is people themselves who are able to offer interpretation

Of course, AI does also come at a cost, too. The process of beginning to implement AI technology can require a lot of budget, both upfront and in the form of maintenance and training expenses. However, like so many long-term investments, AI eventually pays for itself through the streamlining of procedures, boosting of productivity, and enhancement of overall decision-making capabilities. Ultimately, these advantages usually result in higher earnings and a stronger bottom line. This is especially true when it is implemented alongside a workforce skilled in critical thinking.

By handing over tasks that people find tedious and time-consuming to AI, employees can refocus on the harder, more imaginative tasks which require critical thinking skills and creative insight. In fact, it will ultimately be the combination of AI efficiency paired with human innovation which will give companies a competitive edge in a new working era. While AI is not capable of true discernment or critical thinking, it is able to provide analysis and insight at high speeds so that humans can make better-informed decisions when engaging in critical thinking.

However, there is a catch: the quality of AI depends on the data it is trained on. This is another area itself where critical thinking is required. Programmers must think critically about the data given to AI – including challenging assumptions, taking into account different viewpoints, and checking facts for bias and correctness. Hence, the importance of critical thinking goes right down to the foundational level of AI and its ability to aid us at work.

Of course, critical thinking will also be required for engaging with AI in a responsible and ethical manner. With the ability to examine enormous volumes of data comes the need to make sure that the data is reliable, impartial, and representative. This naturally requires human insight, a perspective which comes only from the subjective experience of living in culture and the wider world. It is this background which will enable humans to fortify the knowledge and wisdom produced by AI with the empathy and context which will make it suitable, and helpful in a work context.

to collaborate effectively with AI, and to realise AI’s full potential, critical thinking abilities will be an absolute necessity

Critical thinking abilities will also be necessary for collaborating with AI itself. Given that the algorithms which AI runs on are essentially just a sequence of steps powered by the available data, AI can sometimes make faulty judgments or wrongly incorporate incorrect information. That’s why people will still be needed to ask the following key questions: Is this information based on biassed thinking? Are the sources and references used trustworthy? Has the AI considered this problem from multiple perspectives?

Ultimately, although AI can analyse data and spot patterns, it is people themselves who are able to offer interpretation. Understanding the ramifications of the data and making decisions that are in the best interests of the organisation will require high-levels of critical thinking. Thus, the companies who employ people capable of detailed analysis and nuanced thinking will perform best in an AI-driven environment.

So, how can we improve our critical thinking abilities at work? Promoting a culture of inquiry and curiosity is one strategy. This means encouraging staff members to query beliefs and consider novel concepts. It also requires that the company culture reflects this aim, where failure is understood to be the price of experimentation and creativity. Of course, that doesn’t mean accepting sloppy mistakes or repeated failures, but knowing that not every creative endeavour will always succeed, but that the overall payoff of creative success is worth the slip ups which happen along the way.

Offering opportunities for training and development that emphasise critical thinking abilities is another strategy. Workshops, online classes, and educational reading could all fall under this umbrella. In the future, lessons in metacognition – thinking about thinking – might just become as crucial a part of the onboarding process as other types of standard training and procedure.

Overall, to ensure that AI is utilised responsibly and ethically, to collaborate effectively with AI, and to realise AI’s full potential, critical thinking abilities will be an absolute necessity. You can think of AI as a type of incredibly efficient fuel which is both economical and effective – it may help a vehicle get to where it’s going faster, but it still ultimately requires the human driver to take it from A to B. The companies who invest in critical thinking will naturally have the best drivers in the AI race to success.

Chris Griffiths is, with Caragh Medlicott, author of The Creative Thinking Handbook. He is also a keynote speaker and founder of productivity and mind mapping app,