By Theo Winter
In this series, I’ll be exploring business mega trends. This is part 1.
The whiz kids of Silicon Valley are the new oil barons. Riding the breaking wave of the digital revolution, these tech geniuses are driving market growth and the buzz around many of the hottest business topics: Globalisation, Automation, The Future of Work, The Cloud, Cyber Security, Big Data, People Analytics, The Internet of Things, Social Media, Agile, Gamification, The Gig Economy, and Workplace Flexibility.
Hyper-aware of the impact that disruptive technologies can have, there isn’t a CEO alive who wouldn’t be petrified by the thought of seeing his or her company’s logo added to another presentation on the subject of innovation or change next to the likes of Kodak, Nokia, and Blockbuster—or else be remembered by history as the dunce at the helm.
But technology may not simply be satisfied with drowning corporate leviathans. Like a stealthily clever shark with a taste for blood, it may be waiting to ambush you, too.
Yes, creative snowflake, you.
The Shallows (2016)
This year, the Australian government released a report stating that 44% of jobs are at risk from automation in the next 20 years, a staggering statistic that has been echoed by studies in other countries. The UK: 35%. The US: 47%. The OECD average: 57%. South Africa: 67%. India: 69%. Thailand: 72%. China: 77%.
In May this year, it was reported that Apple and Samsung supplier Foxconn replaced 60,000 factory workers with robots, with more companies likely to follow suit. At the same time, we’re being reassured that machines will create 2.5 jobs for every 1 job lost, and many companies are headed in the direction of augmentation (machines enhancing humans) rather than pure automation (machines replacing humans). Given that historically job loss in one sector hasn't always translated neatly into new jobs in the same sector, I don't know how comforting this news will be to the millions of low-skilled workers around the world.
If you're not sure where you stand, the BBC has created a helpful search box in which you can type your job title to find out the probability of being automated.
According to an HBR article published last month, by 2025 the US economy is expected to create 24 million entirely new positions that currently don’t exist, and 48% of these new jobs will emphasise a mix of hard skills (e.g., typing) and soft skills (e.g., empathy). That’s good news for humans—for now.
See the full article with all 28 "baseline skills" in the Harvard Business Review.
Keep something in mind though when you come across anyone who presents a confident prediction about the state of the future: we’re paddling out to deep, unknown waters. And there's a giant tidal wave looming on the horizon: smart AI.
Let’s take a brief tour of some memorable developments in artificial intelligence over the last 20 years.
1997: IBM’s DeepBlue beats Garry Kasparov—arguably the greatest ever grandmaster—in Chess, something once thought impossible due to the creative element of the game (yeah dude, chess is creative). 2000: Honda’s ASIMO—a multi-functional humanoid robot—is introduced. 2002: iRobot’s Roomba—an autonomous vacuum cleaner—is introduced. 2009: Google builds a self-driving car. 2011: Apple’s Siri—the voice-activated smart assistant—is introduced. 2011: IBM’s Watson wins Jeopardy against 2 former champions. 2012: An AI project by Google Brain trains itself to recognise pictures of cats from 10 million images taken from YouTube videos. 2014: Amazon’s Echo (aka Alexa)—a smart assistant for the home—is introduced. 2015: Erica—"the most advanced humanoid robot"—is introduced to the press in Tokyo. 2015: A Microsoft team wins the ImageNet challenge, a contest to successfully identify objects in images, with an error rate of 4.94%. The error rate by humans: 5.1%. 2016: Boston Dynamics releases a video of its humanoid robot Atlas that has amassed nearly 20 million views on YouTube. 2016: Google’s DeepMind project called AlphaGo beats the world champion in the ancient Chinese game called Go—the world's hardest game and the last remaining “holy grail” for AI in gaming. 2016: IBM’s Watson creates the first-ever AI-made movie trailer for “Morgan.” 2016: Charlie Rose interviews Sophia—a humanoid robot—on 60 Minutes.
And that's just technology getting warmed up.
We are now on the brink of what has been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0, which involves the integration of the physical, digital, and biological. This revolution will do more than fundamentally change work—it will challenge our conception of what it means to be "human."
Societies and governments, which are still grappling with legal, social, ethical, educational, and political ramifications related to the advent of the Internet, Twitter, drones, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, Oculus Rift, Uber, etc., will be forced to decide how to deal with new waves of smart tech. And with each successive wave, we get closer to the one that summons the AI Kraken with apocalyptic power—power that, intentionally or accidentally, could be unleashed by a lone individual, a group, or by itself. We're doomed! Doomed, I tells ya! This article got kind of dark… how did that happen? Oh well, have a great day.