For obvious reasons, our evolving digital world makes people very nervous. Nor does conventional media help the situation - by predicting a bleak dystopian future where the machines will rise up against humans - after watching a few too many science fiction movies. A quick online search for Artificial Intelligence reveals a wealth of doomsday scenarios, but very few stories about the positive aspects of this technology and how it will revolutionize the workspace.
In reality, we have been here several times before. It’s another forward step in the name of progress. The arrival of steam power gave birth to the industrial revolution, enabling hard physical work to be replaced by machines. Yes, this also removed jobs but it forced people into education to ensure we advanced the workforce, and ultimately society, for the next wave of roles.
Electricity produced even greater innovation: radio, cars, television, airplanes, with digital technology quick to follow. Few people would want to return to employment in the roles that existed a half-century, let alone a hundred years ago. So, why are we so scared about the changes that AI will bring and what it means to our teams?
AI is already hardwired into our daily lives. Amazon and Netflix recommendations, along with services such as Google Translate are the sort of modern services we already take for granted. The exponential growth of AI will undoubtedly take things to a whole new level.
Henry Ford is reported to have said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’.” The days of a job for life are nothing but a distant memory, and as humans, we increasingly have to adapt to our surroundings. In this respect, very little will actually change.
In an age dominated by technology, we are only just scratching the surface of what lies ahead. Anyone who has concerns about the impact that AI will have on our world should be excited rather than fearful. The rewards for humanity are potentially vast. For example, smart software will have the power to put a halt to the hazardous waste that causes water and air pollution on the tiny planet that we all call home.
Despite our love of cars and dreams of the freedom-giving deserted road, daily reality is often entirely different. Increasing frustration and multiple unproductive hours, stuck in back-to-back traffic, on dangerous roads, where human error and driver distraction increasingly collide, to produce fatal accidents.
Around the world, cities already provide driverless trains to transport people to and from work each day. Is it really so surprising that autonomous vehicles will one day rule the roads? A combination of a dwindling attention span and poor reaction time creates a compelling case for safer and more productive transportation. How much more satidfying – and stress reducing – to travel to work, free to catch up on emails rather than on your eventual arrival late in the evening.
As individuals, we now aspire to find greater meaning in our lives, and want more than a mind-numbing job where we spend our day's clock watching, and wishing for the weekend. The elimination of repetitive and mundane tasks through automation will indeed remove traditional job roles but is already creating new jobs more suited to a digital age.
Evidence of this, can be found in the warm reception business leaders gave the UK Chancellor's recent budget statement. In it, he recognised a severe shortage in digital skills, cyber security, and technical training, and that te real challenge will be training and educating the workforce in preparation for the changing employment landscape.
There are strong parallels to the industrial revolution. Society needs to collectively look beyond human ability and speed the positive impact of technology on our organizational inefficiencies, to enhance what we do and how we might do it better.
Essentially, computers will ultimately complete tasks that we program them to do. Maybe, it’s not AI, machine learning, and technology that we need to be weary of after all. Perhaps we should take a look closer to home for the real source of our fears. Since the dawn of time, malevolent humans with an insatiable desire to do harm to others, have represented our biggest threat, long before technology arrived on the scene. No not groups of malevolent humans, any humans armed with more advanced technology
We are all traveling on a one-way street to the future, and we cannot return to the old way of doing things. Rather than robots replacing humans, I predict the beginning of a symbiotic relationship between man and machine. The only constant in this lifecycle will be change. Like it or not, we all have to adapt to progress. With this in mind, maybe we should be more optimistic rather than fearful about what the future holds.
What are your thoughts about how AI will affect your life and work? Please get in touch and share your thoughts and insights.