If you're wondering what's ahead for the future of work, read on. Below are 13* dynamics to pay attention to in the next 12 months. Do so and you'll have perfect vision about where to place your bets. Ignore them and, well, don't blame us if your partner leaves you, your dog dies, and your truck won't start.
- The "AI will destroy half of all jobs" panic will largely subside. The report that caused this intellectual existential stampede is now seven years old, and there is simply very little evidence to support its thesis. Unemployment in the US and the UK is at record lows (higher levels in some other G7 countries have very little to do with AI/automation), and whilst machine-based substitution of human labor is undoubtedly happening, it is happening much more subtly and gradually than doom mongers predicted.
- Machine learning based algorithms are continuing to develop fast and in interesting areas. Two particularly stand out; visual image manipulation and medical diagnoses. Check out this amazing video featuring the world's leaders signing John Lennon's Imagine and this demo of AI based translation and personalization. If you're mind isn't boggling after you watch them you should probably go on a mind-boggling course. The extraordinarily intelligent (real not artificial) brains at DeepMind keep outdoing themselves; breast cancer could be on the ropes soon and protein isn't going to fold itself you know. Bravo!
- Quantum Computing is now 20% theory and 80% reality. Just three years ago it was the other way around. Quantum supremacy may sound like the title of the new Austin Powers movie but Google's Sycamore processor (the owner of said accolade) can perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would take the world's fastest supercomputer 10,000 years. Everything else that is going on in the world at the moment rather pales into insignificance against that, wouldn't you say?
- Despite the best efforts of tech marketers everywhere, 2020 will be a "buzz interregnum". The Web 2.0 wave of the last 15 years has crested and the AI, Blockchain, VR, 5G, Quantum wave is still gathering momentum. The "techlash" will strengthen and the geek to chic to dirt bag circle of life will continue on its merry way. Short Patagonia and Allbirds.
- The seeds of the end of the Cloud are being scattered (if not yet quite sown). "Local first" vendors (such as Ink & Switch) are emerging to exploit frustration with the downsides of the Cloud. 2020 will resemble 1997 for the Cloud, i.e. a small number of heretics will question the prevailing orthodoxy of the day. Five years of ridicule await but then, possibly, the laugh last and a world-class fortune.
- The "local first" movement will surf the broader geopolitical rejection of globalization. The first of a wave of prominent influential intellectuals are now saying things that have been verboten in polite society for the last generation or two: that the frustrations of the western world's middle class are not to be simply wished away and that refocusing on "localization" is a legitimate strategy for politicians, business people and ordinary citizens. IMO, this is the macro story of the next 40 years. Remember your Newton- for every force (globalization) there is an opposite and equal reaction (localization).
- Social media usage will peak. Not solely due to Sacha Baron Cohen but because more and more people (young and old) can simply see that tech addiction is real. And addiction - any addiction- is bad. Bad = bad, not bad = good. Digital detoxes or digital sabbaths will be increasingly fashionable. Standing outside the restaurant or office to do Twitter is a ways off but going long on Yondr will be a smart play.
- General "cyber anxiety" will also undermine overall faith in tech (including social media). From "truth decay" to deep fakes to hacking to full on cyber war, being long on pigeons and faraday cages will seem less and less crazy by the day. Any type of cyber defense certification will be a job protecting/uplifting skills slam-dunk.
- The first full length virtual reality film will be made. Not a movie about VR (Ready Player One) but a movie in VR. Given that the first movie with sound was self-reverentially about the cultural phenomena of its day, it's safe to assume that the first VR movie will be called The Virtual Reality Coder.
- Dark kitchens will continue to emerge into the light. Though still an unevenly distributed feature of larger cities, the concept of food delivery (beyond pizza and chicken wings) from "new name/no name" brands will become mainstream for a generation that doesn't have the time, space or interest to cook. Over leveraged, marginally profitable traditional restaurants (80% of all restaurants) will become increasingly irrelevant to people who don't see going out to eat an ordinary, overpriced dinner as a "treat" (as their parents did).
- Direct to consumer-based retailers will become more prominent. Warby Parker, Casper and Dollar Shave Club were just the beginning. Assuming you still watch TV, and don't fast forward through the ads, you'll have noticed the rash of new names squeezing in next to GEICO and GMC; Noom, Untuckit, Brooklinen, Quip, Away, Harry's (and many more) are Internet based sell-first-then-make-then-ship (rather than traditional make-first-then-ship-then-sell) models that are another nail in the coffin of the traditional American mall.
- The new luxury items will be people, privacy and time. People will make a comeback as people reassert that they like people (not bots). Privacy will make a comeback as people reassert that they don't like being surveilled https://www.nytimes.com/series/new-york-times-privacy-project. And time will make a comeback as (the vast majority of) people reassert that they work to live, not live to work. The "6-4" model in Finland will compete with the "996" Chinese model for world domination. Any bets which will win?
- There will be a burst of financial engineering in the IT industry (including the IT services industry). Due to low levels of global macro-economic growth, the lack of a new growth narrative (see "interregnum" comments above), and huge amounts of capital on the sidelines, expect to see significant M&A between mid-tier software and service providers, and exits from public markets into the (relatively) safe harbors of private equity, where refitting can be done out of sight of capricious hedge fund spread sheet mavens.
I'll check back in towards the end of the year to see how all of these ideas have played out. In the meantime, I hope your dog's going to be ok. It's going to be another interesting year for a future of work that's no longer in the future. Bonne chance and bon voyage!
* Why 13? One for each month of the year and one for luck.