The following post about the rise of the machines is submitted by Christian Kromme, Workforce Institute board member, author and futurist.
Our world is going digital at warp speed and exponential technologies are promising the birth of an entirely new economy.
Technologies including robotics, A.I., 3D printing, Augmented reality, Internet of Things (IOT) and blockchain are already impacting our world more than many people realise. As these advances move from the edges into the mainstream, the impact is going to trigger seismic shifts in business and in the way we work. And our personal lives are likely to totally transform in ways that we haven’t even considered yet.
The technology is moving ever closer to our physical selves too. It’s even getting under our skin. In Sweden more than 3,000 people have implanted chips into their hands and can even book a train ticket using just their chip. That’s taking wearable technology further than most people thought would be acceptable just a decade ago. And it’s not just man-made tech that’s impacting us. We are even biohacking our way to longer lives and are starting to actively hack happiness.
It’s been suggested by many futurists and scientists that it’s a distinct possibility by 2030, people are going to be living for 150 years or more. Biohacking will allow us to access parts of ourselves that monks had to meditate for decades to reach. Add that to the exponential advances in our understanding of the connection between our minds and bodies, improved treatments for disease, and our ability to read and alter our DNA and we have the potential to transform our time on this planet.
All that technological progress doesn’t deliver unless we push ourselves to evolve our thinking and behaviour to keep up. What’s the use in all that change if we don’t do something useful with it?
If we don’t develop our thinking as fast as the tech, we will become empty vessels with very little to contribute. There’s no doubt that many of our jobs are going to be automated by smart technology in the very near future. That means we are all going to be challenged to answer serious questions about our purpose and usefulness. As our own technology makes us progressively more redundant and gives us more free time, we are going to be forced to answer some challenging questions:
- Who are we, and why are we here?
- What does it mean to be Human?
- How do I lead my life and what does useful work look like?
We are still educating people for a world that no longer exists. Our entire educational system and economy has, for the last 100 years, been focussed on people learning the skills required to perform largely repetitive and routine tasks. We have been teaching people how to follow procedures and how to produce consistent results. Most of us are trained for a life of “hard-skills” that are easily measured. Learning and performing these easily quantifiable ‘hard-skills is (and has been) a good thing. That model has helped millions of people to generate economic value, become part of the system, secure a home, buy food, look after their families and enjoy their leisure time.
But things are changing rapidly. Technology will soon augment or replace many of those hard-skills we have been educated to rely on to produce value. Even professional roles that were once considered immune to the march of the robots will be affected. Some of them are already feeling the effects and people don’t know what to do about it.
We are going to have to find a way to stay relevant as human beings. In the more uncertain times that are coming, I believe a strong will is going to be more important than a strong skill.
Hard skills can be replaced, a strong sense of purpose and powerful motivation is uniquely human, and these are the qualities that are going to become ever more valuable. Being purpose driven and to do work you really care about will perhaps be the biggest asset of future workers.
Some experts estimate that between 78 % and 86 % of the jobs in our current economy are based on hard-skills. The harsh reality is that the human body is actually not very well equipped to perform them for long periods of time without significant strain. The most valuable skills that take people years to learn also involve us making a lot of (expensive) mistakes during the learning process. Those skills aren’t easily interchangeable either, making us somewhat inflexible.
Everything that can be digitised and automated will be – and that’s going to lead to a dramatic decrease in value. Future technology will be cheap, efficient and extremely fast at automating repetitive and routine tasks. Those tasks then become a commodity. It makes perfect sense that businesses are going to expect more and more routine tasks to be done by A.I. or by robots and I’m expecting that to happen within a decade.
There is Good news for Team Human
Technology is going to automate many tasks that aren’t worth our human attention. We know that skills that can be digitised and automated are going to become a commodity, but the flip side of that means what can’t be digitised and automated will increase in value.
As technology automates many ‘hard skills’, businesses will become financially motivated to focus on the development of ‘soft skills’ instead. That will be the big differentiator when everything else has reached maximum efficiency. The truly human qualities such as emotion, ethics, empathy, creativity are much more difficult to automate. That’s why they will increase so considerably in value.
Human skills are Not Valued as They Should Be
From the moment we set foot in the world humans are naturally equipped to with those valuable soft-skills. We are gifted with imagination, creativity, emotions, empathy and compassion. Though currently these skills aren’t always valued in economic terms. If they were, Mother Terresa would have been a billionaire but despite her considerable influence she was never fiscally comparable to Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg.
Our children are taught to draw between the lines, sit on their chair, stop dreaming and keep their mouth closed. Skills like compassion intuition, empathy, emotions, ethics and curiosity are not the primary focus in schools (which is hardly surprising as they aren’t financially valued in our current economy).
Technology Behaves like a Mirror
I have been researching disruptive technologies for years now, and it has become more and more apparent to me that it will not be technology that answers our really big questions.
Each new wave of disruptive technology is serving more of our human needs and is solving more practical problems, but at the same time it’s also creating new issues of a much higher level; issues that are even harder to resolve.
Ironically, I believe that as we get more technologically advanced; we will become less focussed on the technology itself and more focused on the human beings benefiting from it.
I see technology acting like a mirror, one that reflects our inner world. The more powerful the technology, the clearer and more reflective the image in the mirror becomes. In the end, we will see our true selves looking back at us through our technology.
So if technology behaves like an amplifier and mirrors our inner world (as I believe it does), it becomes more and more important that there is something positive inside ourselves to amplify and reflect. It becomes critical for us to have a strong sense of purpose, be intrinsically motivated, and a strong set of soft-skills to connect with other people so we can all have meaningful impact in our world while living our purpose.
People without a strong sense of purpose who are only able to perform hard-skills are likely to be the first to have their jobs automated. If you do machine-like work, machines will outperform you very soon. In the future, doing purposeful and meaningful work will not be a luxury; it will become an urgent necessity.
The Future of Work
So, what will the future of work look like?
Well, when machines can do the work with chips, humans can do the work with their hearts.
I believe that the way human beings can differentiate themselves from machines (and therefore stay ahead of them) is to develop their inner human and build on our soft-skills.
I believe that disruptive technologies will rapidly destroy jobs that aren’t worth our attention but will also create a new generation of jobs that are much more focused on our soft human qualities. The future of work, in my opinion, will be about knowing your true self and using advanced technology to connect with other people. To be meaningful to express and project your true self and your unique value into the world.
Being who you really are and living that to the full is the way to create true happiness in the long term. So, when machines have automated many of our deficiency needs, we will focus on our growth needs, and our work will become a reflection of that. It’s time to begin the purpose revolution.