In a post from the summer of 2019, I explored the notion of an Augmented Age: a future where our natural human capabilities are radically augmented in three ways: Computational systems will help us think. Robotic systems will help us make. And a digital nervous system will connect us to the world far beyond what our natural nervous system can offer. Fast-forward to a world altered by COVID-19: Are we on an accelerated path to augmentation and automation? This recent Forbes Article takes an interesting look at the question from the perspective of lights out factories.
In a virtual roundtable hosted by C-Level on May 14th, we used several polls to gain insight on how people are thinking about the post-pandemic world. The topic of the roundtable was “Rehearsing Post-Pandemic Futures.” You can view a video of the virtual roundtable Here. I posted the results of polls One and Two earlier. You can participate in those polls by visiting the posts. The third poll that we launched during the session probed the question of jobs.
It’s easy to view the current crisis as a catalyst for change. Lying beneath the surface are signals that major change is required, and when crisis emerges, hope for that change emerges with it. In most cases however, that change never materializes. The last two months have brought countless predictions of what is to come. While we need to consider the low percentage of successful post-crisis predictions in the past, two trends look likely to materialize: accelerated digital transformation, and a rapid path to automation.
As we peer into the Looking Glass, we know that uncertainty is staring back. Our exponential world and all its building blocks and scenarios has created this looking glass phenomenon – something I explored in this Leadership Course back in 2017. COVID-19 underscores this uncertainty, serving as both an accelerant and an obstacle. A good example is explored in this Article on automation. Will the pandemic serve as an automation accelerant, as businesses replace laid off employees via automation? Or is it an obstacle to the capital investment required to enable automation?
What job skills do we need for the future? A popular question that comes up a lot. In a Recent Post, I listed several: emotional intelligence, creativity, flexibility, adaptability, data literacy, and technology savviness. This Tweet of a World Economic Forum video adds complex problem solving, critical thinking, people management, working with others, and decision making to the list.
In a recent Article, Gartner says that no single tool available today can replace humans in the workplace. The article goes on to say that hyper-automation is a response to this challenge – bringing together different tools, technologies and techniques to amplify every company’s ability to automate more processes, more rapidly, with better results.
It is no secret that productivity has slowed. In a Post from 2016, I described this phenomenon in detail. According to Wikipedia, productivity is an average measure of the efficiency of production. It can be expressed as the ratio of output to inputs used in the production process. In a Citi Report I shared in that post, they describe the significant slowing of labor productivity growth, which drives a focus on next generation gains. But In spite of technological progress and innovation, measured productivity growth is low by historical comparison.
I Just finished another great book. This one is titled A World Without Work authored by Economist Daniel Susskind. The author explores a phenomenon that we have discussed many times over the centuries: Technological Unemployment. Drawing on almost a decade of research in the field, Susskind argues that machines no longer need to think like us in order to outperform us, as was once widely believed. The book describes a world where more and more tasks that used to be far beyond the capability of computers – from diagnosing illnesses to drafting legal contracts, from writing news reports to composing music – are coming within their reach. Mr. Susskind tells a compelling story to support his conclusion: the threat of technological unemployment is now real.
As many focus on the future of work, various different perspectives are presented. A common theme is emerging: Jobs will be there, but they will be very different within the next decade. This recent Article draws three conclusions:
- In 10 years time, 50% of jobs will be changed by automation – but only 5% eliminated.
- 9 out of 10 jobs will require digital skills.
- Young, low-skilled and vulnerable people – all need help with up-skilling.
Several critical points are made by the World Economic Forum article:
The world is about to enter a pivotal decade. This decade is likely to be remembered as the launching pad to a very different future. The next ten years are marked by uncertainty, complexity, and an inability to predict how an overwhelming number of Dots Connect to shape the decade. In a 2018 post, I looked at some work by Karen Harris and others that focused on some of the Macro Trends that drive the decade. In the supporting insights report, the authors see volatility emerging from the Collision of Demographics, Automation, and Inequality. These three factors drive a very Turbulent 2020s and Beyond.
An Article by IEEE Spectrum captured a dialog that occurred at a recent MIT conference. The topic: AI and the Future of Work. The conference discussion underscores the struggles between Techno-Optimism and Techno-Pessimism. Pessimistic when AI and automation are viewed as an industry-destroying path that takes jobs via self-driving technology, smart law algorithms, and robots that continue to put factory and warehouse workers out of work. Optimistic when those same technologies are viewed as augmentation that improves the employee experience.
In a recent book, Richard Baldwin takes us on a fascinating journey to the past, and then provides a peak into the next great transformation. In The Globotics Upheaval, Mr. Baldwin describes a cycle that has played out multiple times throughout human history. The cycle of transformation, upheaval, backlash and resolution (Let’s call it TUBS) was experienced each time the world entered periods of major disruption. Mr. Baldwin introduces the Globotics Transformation as the third great economic transformation to shape our societies over the past three centuries. As he describes, the first was known as the Great Transformation started in the early 1700s, and it switched societies from agriculture to industrial and from rural to urban. The second started in the early 1970s, shifting the focus from industry to services – the Services Transformation. I take a different view of transformation in the context of Tipping Points – but the cycle is the same.
In a recent Article posted on the Singularity Hub, the author describes the first report of the MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future. This group of MIT academics was set up by MIT President Rafael Reif in early 2018 to investigate how emerging technologies will impact employment and devise strategies to steer developments in a positive direction. The primary finding from this report is that it’s the quality of the jobs we should worry about – not the quantity.
As mentioned in my previous post, I had the pleasure of hosting two sessions recently at the TCS Innovation Forums in London and New York City. The sessions, which explored the need to prepare for the future, involved thought leaders, futurists, and various leaders across multiple domains. They were structured with several five-minute descriptions of forward-looking themes, and once context was set, a discussion with the broader leadership group was moderated. The sessions focused on education and awareness, rooted in a strong belief that leaders must prepare for and shape our emerging future.
This post will summarize the New York Session, which differed slightly from the one in London. While the London session painted a wide array of evocative future scenarios, the New York session explored several of the key technologies and enablers that will fundamentally shape and impact emerging scenarios. It wasn’t however a technology discussion. This engaging group of thought leaders provided eye-opening facts and focused on implications, both positive and negative. As in London, I opened the session with three key themes from my Expectation post: Acceleration, Possibilities, and Convergence; Here is a look at the insights that followed.
In a recent post, I asked my readers to help me identify those catalysts that force the actions required to steer our future towards advancing our human development. Feel free to respond to the Poll. The number one response was the rapid pace of innovation. That response supports my own opinion that the pace will ultimately force stakeholders across multiple domains to take action. Much like the Domain Convergence that occurred during our most Transformative Period in History, convergence is required if we are to take the correct path towards human flourishing.
Fast Future Research provides a glimpse into possible futures through a series of recently published books that focus on our Our Emerging Future and accelerate our learning and dialog. As with his previous books, Rohit Talwar enlists several authors in a new book just launched titled A Very Human future. An abstract for the book reads as follows:
As society enters the fourth industrial revolution, a major question arises—can we harness intense technological bursts of possibility to bring about a better world? A Very Human Future illustrates how the evolution of society, cities, people, businesses, industries, nations, and governments are being unexpectedly entangled by exponential technological disruption. This is not a book about technology but an exploration of how we make it serve humanity’s highest needs and ambitions.
A popular question these days is: Will a robot take my job? That question is as popular as: what should my child study in school? At the heart of both questions is the fear that we as a society will automate anything that can be automated. This website may help bring some clarity – at least in the context of automation risk level. It’s very quick, simply enter your job and an automation risk level expressed as a percentage will be returned.
Ultimately, these questions are difficult to answer, as we cannot predict the jobs of the future – and required skill levels could be a moving target. The progression of automation can be viewed on a spectrum from augmenting humans to fully conscious machines. There are arguments being made on both ends of this spectrum – time will tell.
In a recent book titled The Future of Work, author Darrell M. West describes the Work 2.0 scenario on this emerging future visual. In exploring possible implications of a shifting work paradigm, he gets prescriptive about possible responses. This implication-response exercise sits at the heart of Future Thinking.
No one can predict this complex and uncertain future – but exercises like this help us see possible futures. In seeing them, we position ourselves to proactively shape them. In the context of work, Mr. West explores several possible responses, including another future scenario which he calls Republic 2.0. How this scenario plays out has a direct impact on the path of other scenarios. The scenario speaks to a new kind of politics. Mr. West states:
I just added another very good book to the Book Library: The Future of Work: Robots, AI, and Automation. Author Darrell M. West looks at a world in which our current views of work change. He explores the implications to our social contract and the policy decisions so critical to revising that contract for a new era. Structural change – which Mr. West explores in the book – has long been a tenet of my work. The future of many of our institutions will either change by our proactive acknowledgement that they must change – or they will be undermined.
The conversation so nicely positioned by our author is one that must happen at all levels of leadership. This does not have to be a Utopian versus Dystopian discussion. Rather, like the major disruptive periods of our past, leaders need to lead.
I wrote about a recent analysis conducted by Bain & Company in an earlier post on the Turbulent 2020s and what it means for the 2030 and beyond. An interesting related exchange on Twitter focused on the impact of birth rates on the core issues of demographics, automation, and growth.