Today's post comes to us from board member Christian Kromme. Here he imagines how machine learning will impact work and life in 2030.

Imagine it is 2030. Today, it’s quite normal to communicate with your computer in the same way you interact with human beings. You can use natural language, show your emotions, and use gestures and your computer understands you.

Life can sometimes feel more like a scene from the Will Smith version of the Isaac Asimov novel I, Robot. Machine learning software has developed so fast in the last decade that our computers have been learning at an exponential rate. It means that they’re able to have a level of advanced sensory perception that’s getting close to ours. Our computers can now interpret visual, auditory, and tactile information in such a natural way that it’s now perfectly normal for us to expect them to be able to process things like we can.

Our modern machine learning algorithms have enabled us to create all kinds of smart software and hardware tools; tools that have made our lives more comfortable than ever and even more convenient. Our organizations and even our families have been able to use these amazing machine learning algorithms to learn and solve some complex problems. As a result, our homes, our transport vehicles, our personal devices, our companies, and just about everything we come into contact with has become exponentially smarter.

Back in the early 2020s, machines were finally able to learn from humans, and in the process, our machines started to adapt to us more and more. Now our technology actually understands our exact human needs. It has been able to adapt to us by adopting behaviors that are ever more human and more natural for us to be around. We are so well taken care of that we have finally had the foresight to look beyond ourselves.

So the question now is this: What next? What needs do we still have? Well, that question was the one that, all those years ago, so interested Abraham Maslow. Remember his pyramid? The bottom of the pyramid was all about deficiency needs and the top of the pyramid was all about growth needs. Right at the top was the ultimate in human expression, the very essence of self. Right at the top is our own need for self-actualization; our need to create, our need for the ultimate in purpose and the self-expression of our very humanity. Our future lies in a sense of purpose that defines who we are.

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 our 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 work, in my opinion, will be about knowing your true self and using advanced technology to connect with other people.

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.

Today's post comes to us from Workforce Institute board member David Creelman. Here he discusses why HR pros should take time to play with smartphone apps in order to understand the possibilities of new technologies in the human resources domain.

If I were a Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO), I’d demand my team download and play with various smartphone apps, such as FlightRadar and Woebot. (I’d be a tough leader!)

Of the two, Woebot is the app that seems like it would provide more value to HR at first glance: it’s a chatbot that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to address issues like anxiety and depression. The tool itself might be useful for employees, and in any case, it’s a great example of how a chatbot can deliver training.

The value of FlightRadar is less obvious but perhaps even greater. FlightRadar shows all the aircraft in flight around the world with information about speed, delays, weather and excellent background information on each aircraft. FlightRadar is interesting because there are at least 4 reasons why it should be impossible:

  1. Surely that data can’t be available
  2. Surely if the data were available it wouldn’t be accessible
  3. Surely if the data existed and was accessible it couldn’t be displayed on an everyday device every schoolchild owns
  4. Surely even if all of the above were true it couldn’t be free

My reasons why this app should be impossible were all very credible until just a few years ago. Now, unlike me, a teenager with a smartphone is not in the least surprised that such a free app exists.

Here’s why this is important for HR and the future of work. Things we might consider impossible (or might not even have imagined before deeming them impossible) are becoming increasingly common. The future of work will involve continually confronting the unimaginable. The best way for people, including HR professionals, to stay attuned to what might be possible is to immerse themselves in new technologies any chance they get.

It really is impossible to tell what specific implications apps like Woebot, FlightRadar and all the rest will have for business or HR. I don’t think it would be particularly helpful to have a meeting where we tried to draw a straight-line from FlightRadar to HR practice. What I do believe, is that people attuned to the latest technology will have a better feel for what is possible and apply that to their work.

We’re all going to have to spend a greater portion of the day learning, rather than merely working. Playing with apps is one way to start.

Today's post comes to us from board member David Creelman.

Most of the press on neuroscience has been around the weaknesses in human decision-making. This is interesting though not especially worrying;most of us have grown up well-aware of the frailties of human intelligence. The main reason neuroscience’s findings about poor decision-making seemed surprising was that economists had built the entire field on the simplifying assumption that humans were perfectly rational. Economists needed that assumption to make the math work—then they seemed to forget it was a simplifying assumption and were stunned to discover humans were irrational.

A new book by Nick Chater, The Mind is Flat, is much more disturbing. He points to the science suggesting that we do not have a deep unconscious mind that might be considered the “true” self. Instead, we invent the self, moment by moment, just as Netflix calculates what movies you will like in the moment rather than relying on some subconscious Netflix “self” that dredges up suggestions based on its innermost feelings about you.

We typically believe it’s a good idea to put an idea aside for a time so that our unconscious brains can mull it over. Chater points to evidence that this simply doesn’t happen, the brain does not do any mulling in the background; that we feel sure that it is doing so is simply an illusion. It does help to step back from a problem for a moment and then go back at it afresh, but it doesn’t help to give the brain a few hours or days to ponder—the brain isn’t doing that, it only works in real time, it doesn’t do background processing.

Earlier books on neuroscience would have led you to believe that humans are bad at statistics which is why our preferences appear to be inconsistent. Chater argues that the inconsistency is because we do not have inner preferences sitting in our unconscious mind. Instead, we make decisions as to what we want (e.g. a trip to Paris vs. a trip to Rome) in the moment rather than referring to inner preferences.

The book leaves a lot of unanswered questions. In particular, it often begs the question of, if we are not making our decisions based on inner preferences, then what are we making them on? However, I suspect Chater’s view is true in some important ways. It’s a view that implies human behavior is less consistent than we might expect and more driven by the moment than by inner personality. This will inevitably challenge our beliefs on how to select and motivate employees.

I’ll be looking into this further, so keep in touch.

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