The Future Always Follows Two Paths

In a Post from 2016, I explored the balance required when the forces of innovation take hold. The pace of innovation four years ago was already staggering, and the engine that drives it continues unabated. From that post:

The unabated exponential progression of science and technology has driven a staggering pace of innovation. The building blocks are mostly there, allowing creative minds to combine them in ways that attack the world’s most difficult challenges. Additional forces have emerged to position the next two decades as a period that is purpose-focused and transformative. Innovation itself is no longer the sole purview of business, universities, government, and military, as our connected world provides an ideation and innovation engine never seen before.

The path of innovation has always been part constructive and part destructive; enhancing our humanity or diminishing it. An example of that phenomenon is described in a recent Article written by Jack Kelly. In it, Mr. Kelly describes a possible dark side as the future of work emerges. I find it fascinating that we now see more comparisons to the past. History and its lessons help us consider the possibilities and assess appropriate actions. In the referenced article, the author looks at the future of work through the lens of the past – in this case, a feudal society. Per the author: “There’s a strong possibility that we’re fast heading toward a new medieval feudalistic society, as people will be thrusted unwillingly into the gig economy, contract work and forced into retirement—due to lack of alternatives. Workers will need to cope with chronic underemployment and unemployment.”

The article looks at inequality, the likelihood that it worsens, and the shifting power dynamics between capital and labor. This dynamic was altered by the pandemic, favoring some industries like those technology-oriented, and punishing those like travel, hospitality, and retail. Beyond inequality, the future of work could see acceleration towards a Surveillance State. Per the article:

“Demand has surged for software that can monitor employees, with programs tracking the words we type, snapping pictures with our computer cameras and giving our managers rankings of who is spending too much time on Facebook and not enough on Excel.” 

I had asked a number of CEOs if they believed COVID-19 would accelerate the path towards surveillance. Here is the result of that survey:

Employee monitoring seems to be accelerating at a rapid pace, as examples describe in the article. The question comes back to balance. Does this enhance or diminish our society? Surveillance in the name of productivity is one potential path, the other is more destructive:

“The World Economic Forum (WEF) concluded in a report that “a new generation of smart machines, fueled y rapid advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, could potentially replace a large proportion of existing human jobs.”

Per the article job loss driven by the pandemic will be accompanied by job loss via machines – wiping out more jobs. The WEF claims automation will supplant about 85 million jobs by 2025, and the remaining jobs will dramatically change to a 50-50 combination of humans and machines. There are more dark considerations for the future of work described in the article, like more competition for jobs as vicinity is less relevant. Employees become digital nomads while employers get more options. As dark as this article is, it does underscore the issue of balancing the path of innovation. I’ll re-post the visual I’ve used to drive this message home.

Click to Enlarge

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