Uniquely Human Abilities in the Digital Age: A qualitative exploration for a Successful Transformation of the Workplace during the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Isabell Fries

Student thesis: Master thesis


Nowadays, the public debate on the future development of technology and its impact on the labour market seems to focus on the replacement of human abilities and the dominant approach how to do so. This becomes evident in discussions on automation, AI/ML or industry 4.0. The debate about AI also has to consider the characteristics that make humans indeed human. When the boundaries between humans and machines start to blur, the machine is no longer merely a tool, but an autonomous unit that can make complex decisions. This study intends to achieve a broader understanding of uniquely human abilities and areas of technological superiority, the application of future skills to the future workplace, and the potential of human-machine interaction. These topics were surveyed in a qualitative study interviewing 30 experts and moderating three focus groups, and which followed an extensive review of existing literature in the field. Concrete implementation recommendations are provided. The result of this study is a taxonomy of uniquely human abilities, which highlights the high importance of social skills that are required for the future of work. It further suggests that the human abilities social interaction, creativity and cognition are indispensable in the ongoing technological change. These abilities further need to be joined with more advanced human-machine collaborations. This study generates a valuable contribution to the field through new insights in human abilities and the future of work in the era of industry 4.0. It contributes to the field by suggesting necessary future skills at the workplace, as well as a change of the educational system. The findings of the study are particularly relevant for current and future employees and may be able to support them on their journey to develop a skillset that best fits for the future. The study might also serve as a basis for personnel and management development, recruitment and science. Keywords human abilities, future skills, social skills, future of work, artificial intelligence, fourth industrial revolution, human-machine interaction, qualitative research

EducationsMSc in International Business and Politics, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages189
SupervisorsMari-Klara Stein & Thomas Bohné