Which Technologies Will Transform the Way We Work and Live?

March 6, 2017

I’m continuing to ask almost everyone I talk to these four “simple” questions:

  1. What aspects of the future of work are you most excited about?
  2. What are you most uneasy about?
  3. What technology do you think will have the biggest impact on the way we work and live in the next five to ten years?
  4. If you could change one thing about the way you work right now, what would it be?

I’m just getting started, but I can already report that my interviewees are excited and curious about that third question: What technology will have the biggest impact on the way we work and live in the next five to ten years?

The consensus so far seems to be Artificial Intelligence (AI) in many different forms. Almost everyone I’ve asked about their expectations has mentioned AI as a major driver of future transformation. Of course, let’s remember that AI was the wave of the future over 25 years ago as well; it’s one of those technologies that takes years and years to become an overnight sensation.

Here are just a few direct quotes:

From Robert Buss:

I’ll jump on the bandwagon and say AI, but it will take more than five years. I place self-driving cars in this area, because they need to be “intelligent” enough to drive on public roads. Other processes are getting AI “assistants” – and sooner or later there will be a “platform” for creating such “assistants”, thus making AI available to a very wide audience.

From Bob Leek:

Machine learning and AI are going to fundamentally alter the way people interact with technology. With Alexa/Siri, we already almost have Majel Barret’s voice (for all of you Star Trek fans) just waiting to answer a question.

In my mind what Robert Buss calls AI “assistants” amount to what I (and many others) call “augmentation” of work, in contrast with automation, which means the complete replacement of a human actor with a technology-based one.

Augmentation encompasses all the digital tools and “partners” are already using – whether it is a personal computer, a smart phone, a voice-activated search function like Siri, an airline reservation system, a digital thermostat, or the “parking assistant” in many automobiles today.

And one more comment about how future technologies will impact our lives and our work:

From Rick Fullerton:

Big data – and the power to gather and act of social media and [the] on-line presence of ‘everyone.’ Yesterday I read an article about the use of ‘big data’ capability mining social media to analyze voter characteristics to enable micro-targeted political campaigning. This was given as the way Trump was elected.  1984 is here….. when a very few, very powerful people can gain and maintain such power the implications for business and society are of great concern.

Notice how quickly Rick moved from thinking about Big Data and data mining to expressing concern about how that information is being used in political campaigns. It’s impossible to ignore the potential of tools like this to have both good and bad effects (depending, of course, on your political views).

Remember that like any other tool, digital technology is simply that – a tool. How it ultimately impacts society depends very much on the values, intentions, and integrity of the tool-users.

Personally, I believe some of the biggest breakthroughs will come from the integration and linking together of multiple technologies. For example, the emergence of driverless vehicles, or what design firm Ideo refers to as “automobility,” depends not just on AI and machine learning, but on sensors, on spatial location technology, and on interconnectivity, the Cloud, and dozens of other “under the hood” developments that most of us don’t have a clue about.DC3 Airplane

It is worth remembering that commercial air travel emerged a century or so ago not just because of the Wright Brothers and their understanding of the physics of flight, but also because of other technologies like metal-skinned, pressurized plane cabins, the development of powerful propeller engines, radio transmitters, and weather forecasting. Without every one of those technologies (and many more) air travel would have remained a curiosity for daredevils for many more decades.

I admit that when I ask what one technology will have the biggest impact, I am oversimplifying by several orders of magnitude. I’m personally convinced, from what I know today, that “automobility” and all its second- and third-order consequences (and related technologies) will change our lives more than any of us can imagine today.

I’ll share more of my thoughts about automobility over the next several weeks.

However, you may have to wait longer than usual to hear from me again. I’m heading off to Europe this week for an extended trip – a combination of work (a little bit) and pleasure (a lot). My wife and I will be enjoying spring in London, Paris, Cannes, and many smaller villages. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it!

(c) 2017 by The Future of Work…unlimited. All rights reserved.

Don’t face the future alone. Jim Ware is a workplace futurist, author, and meeting design specialist who has invested his entire career equipping organizations to thrive in a rapidly changing world. Contact Jim today at +1 510.558.1434 to learn how his workshops, keynote presentations, and expertise in orchestrating powerful conversations can put the future to work for you.

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