The Machines are taking over
You can’t open a publication today or read the business press without being showered with articles proclaiming that the “sky is falling in” and that all of our jobs are going to be unceremoniously swallowed up by our soon-to-be robot overlords.
Gimmie a break! No, I’m not some ignorant Luddite with my head in the sand. In fact, my disposition is almost entirely the opposite.
My education was in Computer Science, specifically Intelligent Systems — and I’ve spent much of the last decade programming and building many of these ‘job-stealing’ systems we hear so much about.
So why does my position seem at odds with my own experiences?
Human history, that’s why. As a society, we have a tendency to aggrandize the scope, severity, and impact of the change to fit a pre-determined narrative. A narrative that has been concocted not only in our heads, but likely those of our friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances with whom we discuss such issues. Put simply, we have a tendency to talk and think ourselves into believing the worst case scenario.
Once we’ve seen enough evidence to tip us over into the “believer” category, we look for opportunities to confirm our own beliefs and position on an issue. Whilst this is not necessarily wrong, we have a horrible tendency to overvalue incremental information that makes it appear that large-scale shifts are happening in a far more comprehensive and rapid fashion than they are in reality.
We’ve been here before
- In the 19th century, the industrial revolution was going to replace all bar a small, select group of human jobs. Hmmmm… nope.
- In the 1950’s it was ubiquitous nuclear power. Some even forecast micro-sized nuclear reactors that would be owned by every household rendering the cost of energy to zero… wrong again.
- In the 1980’s we were saying that paper disappearing from offices was imminent. Last year we used more paper than ever… guess all those networked printers put a stop to that?
- In the mid 2000’s, the target of our dystopian envisioning — printed books. Printed book sales have been climbing again for the past 3 years consistently… Coffee and paperbacks, a match made in heaven.
Whilst we tend to get the thrust of the technological implications right, we are really bad at guessing the details.
Why are we so bad at predicting the outcome of technological change?
There is a whole other article begging to be written on this subject, but it’ll leave it for the moment simply saying we ain’t got a great hit rate when it comes to tech-driven macroeconomic shifts.
One theory, which is oft-traded amongst technology circles, is that humans are bad at thinking in term of exponentials. Very few things in our everyday world, beyond our own cells, work in exponents — so we’re just not geared to think in that way. We look at the next move or a couple of moves ahead and extrapolate “the future” missing the fact that when living in an exponential ecosystem- very few steps generate several orders of magnitude in change.
Think back only five years and it was almost inconceivable that people would have 10 gigabyte personal data plans on their phone! “What would they possibly do with it?” we would have thought. Today, with the computing power available to us in our tiny smart devices, that amount of data seems almost modest.
Moore is less
Which brings me to “Moore’s Law”. A not an unfamiliar concept to many people (to paraphrase, our computing power doubles every 18 months or so and halves in price). Until recently, it was a piece of terminology confined to us boffin-y types. Not anymore. As the ability of machines to perform human tasks increases, so does the degree to which their proficiency becomes intertwined with Moore’s law.
Take an example of this in action. If a lawyer gets rewarded based on the number of hours they can bill each year, and through process efficiency gains, better technologies to do their job etc, they can improve their output (number of hours billed), by 15% year-on-year. That sounds pretty good right?
Okay, until you realise, that the proportion of tasks completed by that lawyer that are able to be computerised/automated are getting higher and higher every year — and now, the upper bounds of improvements of your job is only dictated by Moore’s Law, i.e. productivity, or output, should double (give or take) every 18 months. Uh Oh. All of a sudden, your 15% improvement looks mighty quaint.
The higher the cohesion between the task and computerisation, the more it becomes dictated by Moore’s law.
So what has all of this got to do with jobs and the future of workforces?
Why on earth, based on these truths presented, would I still state that not all jobs are under threat of automation? Now of course, if the job is highly routinized, or primarily involves pattern matching, they’re kinda toast. BUT, that doesn’t mean all, nor even the majority of jobs are simply going to be eliminated — and this is where our understanding of how macro-level technological changes have unfolded historically, comes into play.
As things get cheaper through automation, customised human versions become more valuable, history has shown us this time and time again. It is true >even of things that aren’t all that different from the automated experience. When phone enquiries can be handled by an interactive voice response (IVR) system, we laud companies that use delightful humans as part of their service. When music becomes cheap (free actually), concerts and live gigs expand like never before. From suits finished by your personal tailor to personal shopper/stylists, we continue to craft and seek out new experiences in place of automated facsimile.
The more automatable tasks in a job that can be, well, automated, the more time leftover to craft these intricate, elaborate and bespoke human experiences.
So whilst in the short-term, there will be a compression phase, during which jobs comprised of automatable tasks, will be replaced with newly defined creative jobs. These jobs, focussed squarely on these human experiences, will flourish.
Place your Bets
If we think about where we will find new opportunities, they will no longer be forged from a need to perform sequential and repeatable tasks, like shelf stacking, but more to deliver creative experiences designed to delight customers in new and special ways.
What is going to keep these Experience Makers ahead of the game? How will they be able to continually create a stream of bespoke experiences that enrapture customers time and time again?
Two parallel trends are emerging in this wave of change and we are betting the farm on them defining future workplace learning. We believe that the people at the frontline of these newly defined roles will use two things to become Supercharged Experience Makers:
Continuous re-skilling & education—
“DUH, genius,” you say, but wait! What I’m talking about is different to traditional views of continuous learning. This doesn’t mean grabbing a short course once a year whose syllabus is a throwback to the1970’s providing superficial, cookie-cutter wisdom that you forget faster than the winner of the last season of “Survivor”. Continuous means exactly that — feeding your brain with content based on critical triggers at scientifically proven intervals to maximise uptake and application of newly learned skills. It is the continuous layering of knowledge that gives rise to a deep change in our behavior, putting mastery of customer experience within reach of everyone.
Employing new tech built to enhance human performance—
This is where the real magic happens. Humans are spectacular content creators — in fact, we do it all the time when we chat with our friends. In a more capitalistic sense, when we “sell” something — an idea, a product, a house or even ourselves, we are creating content through storytelling.
What if we have the tech to “upgrade” our Experience Making abilities?
Giving our brains the right “material” to chew on, optimising the format and delivery for maximum effect ensures it gets inside our heads and sticks. We can harness the power of new technology to make us the most potent storytellers. We are then using the power of exponentially accelerating technologies to amplify our own skills. Wow! No longer will we endure the laborious drudgery and hit-and-miss initiatives to try and incrementally improve our skills
For the first time in human history, we can augment and automate every aspect of our self-improvement using a truly personalized tech-powered approach. Taking that a stage further, the implications for this kind of advancement on our wellbeing and job satisfaction are equally exciting.
At a very fundamental level, we will re-invent our job descriptions and approach based on our targeted learned abilities, optimised and reinforced through intelligent technology. This means at a neurological level we put ourselves on a direct course to many experiences that cause us pleasure. As we become more proficient at a skill, we “win” more often and we access our creative centres more readily. Consequently, we are happier at work, which results in better performance in the main. At the same time we shape better experiences for customers, creating a compounding and virtuous happiness loop.
Going one step further, we’re “all in” on the bold expectation of enhanced Experience Making abilities, thanks to new advanced technologies. These new abilities are a critical component in the restructuring of modern economies currently taking place around the world and here’s why.
More and more, governments are trying to adequately figure out how to quantify the contribution of the workforce to the economy in the future.
In the old days, this involved calculating that “X” number of workers produced “Y” number of outputs, which was expressed by GDP. In the fast-approaching new economy, replication and production costs approach zero (thanks to automation), and access to no cost-high value resources become the norm, traditional GDP becomes less relevant as a measure of output.
In recent years, there has been a growing groundswell of belief that the actual value of an economy is its ability to boost the well-being and happiness of its citizens — which seems to make sense. What is the goal of an economy if not to make the lives of its people longer, happier and more fulfilling? This also goes for business — if companies can create strong positive emotional connections with their customers, it stands to reason that they will be able to leverage this into more sustainable and valuable relationships over time.
By empowering workforces through technology, by really giving Experience Makers the tools and skills to delight customers and in-turn be happy themselves, Myagi can play a part in making this a reality. Updating the definition of and getting results from this new economic standard. Maybe this is exactly what Bobby Kennedy envisioned when he said this nearly fifty years ago?
“Gross national product measures everything, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
If you enjoyed my journey to the future of our global economy, feel free to post a comment or share.