One of the most interesting and fulfilling aspects of a career in IT is our industry’s tendency to focus on the future and the promises of tomorrow. It seems we’re always thinking of the possibilities that exist and how technology can change and improve the way we live and work.
I recently read (and thoroughly dog-eared) the new book The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross. An innovation expert, Ross leads an interesting and refreshing discussion on the future of the workplace, one that in 10 years’ time will be almost unrecognizable to most of us today.
Indeed, we’re already seeing many of the changes he predicts – things like artificial intelligence and data analytics driving business and hiring decisions. Employees, it seems, must be ready to embrace the rollercoaster of changes they’re bound to face.
I want to highlight a few big ideas that came from this book that, I think, shed light on my work at CSC and lend guidance to how so many of us can approach the workplace of today and tomorrow.
On Empowering Women
In the book, Ross talks about an emerging cultural consensus of strengthening a company’s most critical resource: its people. He dedicates a section to empowering women, specifically, saying “Fully integrating and empowering women economically and politically is the most important step that a country or company can take to strengthen its competitiveness. Societies that do not overcome their negative cultural legacies regarding the treatment of women will founder in the next wave of innovation”
I believe in this statement (and have written about it here) and know that we at CSC are on the way to achieving this. We’re working together for parity in an industry that has long been dominated by men.
On the AI Era
Think about this: Our children will be the first to grow up in an era where they never doubt the role of the robot or artificial intelligence in society. The French company Alderbaran is even building robots to serve as teaching assistants in science and computer classes.
Society will adapt, but we need to be aware of the effects. What role should AI and robots play in our lives? How much is too much? Do we need to rewrite the rules to accommodate this new technology?
“How societies adapt will play a key role in how competitive and how stable they are,” writes Ross.
On the Sharing Economy
The sharing economy, exemplified by the success of Airbnb and Uber, has thoroughly disrupted several industries. As the trend continues, IT leaders will find themselves supporting and developing solutions for new and innovative ideas.
A new level of trust will emerge, one based on technologies that can bring people together in new and unique ways. “Yet as these changes take place, a new set of norms is being established, rooted in coded markets and algorithms,” writes Ross. The trust of the future will be held within the data – which leads to a discussion of blockchain.
Blockchain is already shaking up the banking and mortgaging businesses. (CSC just hosted a really interesting Blab on the topic.) Forward-thinking technologists recognize the power of the tool to break down traditional sources of authority (the bank, for instance) and invest it in individual users (its customers). If blockchain gains social acceptance and widespread use, the transformation will be huge and the accessibility will have a knock-on effect to many industries as a result.
On Our Connected Lives
“From 2015-2020, the number of wireless connected devices is going to grow from an estimated 16 billion to 40 billion,” writes Ross. In essence, anything with a computer chip, including toasters, fridges, watches, cows, can and may become part of the Internet of Things.
What worries me about this trend is the growing rate of cybercrime and the vulnerabilities IoT creates for companies, countries and individuals worldwide. We as a society will have a new purpose, writes Ross: “Government has a responsibility to protect its people, not just big business and infrastructure.”
If you have ever watched CSI: Cyber, you have an understanding of the types of things we could be dealing with. (If you haven’t seen the show, here’s a great overview of cyber extortion and IT hijacking.) For every innovation that’s created for good, there’s a potential use for evil. Tracking these uses and maintaining security is paramount.
On Data Science
In 2015, the world had 5.6 zettabytes of data, writes Ross. A zettabyte is 1 sextillion bytes or 1 trillion gigabytes. The number grows year by year, making data one of the defining traits of our age.
We may be a global – and ever-globalizing – society, but data alone can’t tell our story. “People are really good at weaving stories that weave together multiple causes. Data analysis is pretty bad at narrative,” Ross writes.
We are some way off from having machines that can tell stories or put together patterns based on trust, intuition, humour, emotion and knowledge – in short, human characteristics. Without an innate sense of these expressions, AI and data will fail to put together and tell stories from the data that exists. It will always need guidance from a human being.
“Adapt or perish. Otherwise, some 28-year-old will come along and do it before you,” Ross writes. And he’s right – though youth isn’t the only driver of disruption. We need to act quickly in this day and age, as ideas become the commodity of the future.
Leaders today need to encourage innovation and transformative ideas in a blame-free environment. Mistakes should be accepted quickly, learned from and moved on from.
Our workforce has changed greatly over the years and that will continue to be the case. Technology will drive disruption, and different types of jobs will emerge as others fade away. To ensure a balance, we need to embrace the strengths and differences of our workforce, which will go a long way toward helping us work together to build a new and exciting future. It’s all in our hands.