I recently joined Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work (CFOW), meaning that I now ... pretty much carry on doing what I used to do as an analyst: challenge organizations on their future journeys from a talent, process and platform perspective. Something that’s been on my mind over the last few weeks is the psychological impact of new digital technologies (AI, digital consumer interaction, big data, prescriptive analytics, etc.) on the workers of tomorrow.
I’m particularly interested in what work ahead will look like when intelligent systems perform more and more of our everyday, not-so-mundane tasks. What will motivate workers in this higher value world? And does humanity actually have a key role to play in continuously improving and refining this digitally led business environment of the future?
In a recent CFOW report, (People — Not Just Machines —Will Power Digital Innovation), we proposed the concept of “alloyed economies” that would blend talent, disciplines and technologies across industries to deliver compelling business outcomes. To an extent this is already happening – consider the recent IBM Watson/Salesforce partnership or Garmin’s dominance of the connected cycling world.
The coming of AI and true automation has widely been labeled the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the blending of the physical and digital worlds. Unreformed economist that I am, I can’t help but observe the impact that this revolution will have on our economy and society as a whole. Looking at the previous three industrial revolutions, it‘s apparent that society took a step forward in its basic needs and ambitions following the introduction of each one.
Observing the various stages of each against the backdrop of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, parallels begin to emerge. Take the First Industrial Revolution: With the advent of mechanized agriculture and manufacturing, society could make more efficient use of resources, resulting in a greater abundance of food and products. This allowed society to move beyond subsistence living and progress up the hierarchy of needs to focus more on issues like security, safety and belonging.
If we take this thinking and fast forward to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is based on automation of tasks (payroll processing, driverless transport, etc.), a likely result will be a society that is better able to focus on areas outside of task fulfillment. In the next decade, we foresee individuals being freer to fully explore the needs of self-actualization and self-transcendence than at any time in human history. Recent policies being examined in governments around the world, such as the national wage proposed in Switzerland, point to the beginning of this stage. While it was rejected, the fact that it got as far as a referendum points to society that is overcoming the limits of the individual self and focusing more society’s wider ambiguities.
So, you might be thinking, “Great, but what does this mean for the future of business?” We see two potential impacts:
- First, the worker of the future will be much more concerned with and driven by the need for self-expression, self-contemplation and creativity. This means businesses will need to drastically realign HR and working environment practices that allow workers to express themselves, their impact on an organization and their creativity. In an upcoming piece of research we are undertaking at CFOW that looks at how work and its physical environment will interact in the future, titled The Future of Space we will look to identify how space (cities and working environments) will adapt to foster productivity in this new age of self-awareness.
- Second, this new sense of self-awareness and creativity feeds neatly into the future of work. Very soon, we won’t need “grunt” workers, and while many see this as the Armageddon of the job market, we see a new society of self-aware, creative workers emerging, bringing in a completely new set of jobs and skills. Roles such as virtual reality architects, smart home developers and talent explorers will become, dare I say it, commonplace. Workers with a greater need to express themselves creatively will be more suited to these roles.
Essentially, this Fourth Industrial Revolution will usher in a self-fulfilling prophecy: The very fact that mundane work is removed from our day-to-day lives, we, as a society, will be more able to imagine and develop the world of the future. And in that future – which will continue to utilize human talent -- our strategic and creative abilities will push us toward being the stewards, rather than simply the construction workers, of our future.
Just to end.
Within Cognizant’s CFOW, our Work AHEAD series of research is actively challenging business leaders to rethink their digital strategies and ready themselves for 2020. Our recent book, What to do when Machines do Everything, highlights the AHEAD model, this model provides a roadmap to follow in order to succeed in the business of the future underpinned by algorithms, AI, cloud and mobility.
In short, AHEAD outlines five key approaches for success with systems of intelligence, namely:
- Automate: Outsource rote, computational work to the new machine.
- Halo: Instrument products and people and leverage the data exhaust they generate through their connected and online behaviors (what we call Code Halos) to create new customer experiences and business models.
- Enhance: View the computer as a colleague that can increase your job productivity and satisfaction.
- Abundance: Use the new machine to open up vast new markets by dropping the price point of existing offers, much as Henry Ford did with automobiles.
- Discovery: Leverage AI to convince entirely new products, new services, and entirely new industries.
The “meat” of this blog really deals with the “D” in this acronym, by looking to reimagine (or discover...) the worker and society of the future of business.