Interesting guest post by Stuart Phythian World traveller, writing & researching on impact of &

This year has seen, what appears to be, an unusually high level of soothsaying predictions on technological ‘Revolutions’, and how they will affect us all. How the latest technology buzz-word, ‘Artificial Intelligence’, will replace 50% of our jobs. Emerging new business models replacing the old, such as Uber and Airbnb. How the changing working landscape is driven by ‘Millenials’, who don’t care only for a salary but want access to many other perks believed to be unique to them.

The above may or may not be true but it overlooks some major demographic changes occurring, both globally and in our backyards.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

What is Artificial Intelligence? I still haven’t made a connection between the doom-mongers of ‘Skynet’, ready to take over the functions of the world, implement nuclear armageddon & attempt to wipe out humanity and the reality of actually seeing some form of humanoid robot, which can only just stand up or have a meaningful conversation with. Try adding a reasonably complex sentence from English into French or German in ‘Google translate’ and see what rubbish gets churned out. It might get the message across, but only just.

At present, most of the time the term, ‘AI’ is used it’s nothing but the manipulation of massive amounts of data, which only a computer can do. The major change from 20 years ago is now the speed with which it processes the logic arguments. This ‘Big Data’ processing isn’t new & some great success stories can be seen which have generated business and in many cases, added employment. Let’s call this Narrow AI (ANI). I still believe we are many years away from the culmination of ANI to become General AI (AGI), with the ability to reason, understand complex ideas, think in the abstract and generally learn from its mistakes. As scientists we are a long way from understanding the human brain, never mind developing something to replicate a human mind or teach itself.

This is where I get stuck with the prophesying: We’re expected to believe 50% of jobs are being taken over by robots, self-driving cars and trucks. This isn’t to say progress isn’t being made, & fairly rapid, exponential progress albeit due to operating at higher speeds. My main concern is not that of the ongoing technological revolution, which I have doubts about.

It is worrying that my own competitiveness & that of my four children have many more influences to compete against in a world being made smaller by increased computerisation & technological innovation.

NEW BUSINESS PARADIGMS

Although we’ve seen many advances in digital usage, such as Apple’s iTunes and Amazon changing the landscape, one of the first great examples was the success of the ‘Tesco Clubcard’ and their use of the company ‘Dunnhumby’, a Big Data start-up. It made suggestions based on a buyers shopping profiles with money off vouchers for future purchases – A marketers dream in a very ‘bricks-and-mortar’ establishment.

New business models taking advantage of these latest data-driven advances include Amazon, Google, Apple, Uber, Airbnb and Facebook all offering advantages to customers never seen before.

Many of these groups are collaborating in the field of real Neural advances and Supercomputer technology, such as IBM’s Watson (with Apple), Google’s D-wave (with NASA) and Facebook’s FBLearnerflow. This is where the real area of AI is being researched, which we have yet to see on the high street.

Will the prevalence of a small number of companies with so much power over the individual with their data become more of a concern? Digital Feudalism, with so much power in the hands of a few organisations. Already tasked with the protection of users private data, the majority of these corporations have been subject to viral attacks to varying degrees.

GLOBAL DEMOGRAPHICS

The rise of the East: There were approximately 200,000 UK Graduates in 2016 entering the job market, whilst there were 7.7 million Chinese graduates alone, more than seven times that of 15 years earlier! In a rapidly globalising market, our graduates have to compete in a much bigger pool of talent.

Presently the UK is one of the World’s top nations for its research and development in many areas, such as Automotive (F1), Aerospace, Metallurgy, Pharma, Medical, Computer Services and High-end Manufacturing, amongst others.

No nation can rest on its laurels. In this era of government and state austerity, it can easily be overtaken by overseas competitors, as they increase R&D spend versus the UK’s cutbacks.

DEMOGRAPHIC TIME-BOMB & CHANGING WORK

Millenials are perceived in many circles to be particularly wanting. The reality is every generation, now & before us wanted purpose, feedback and a degree of work-life balance but it appears to be more explicit than before.

Is this more likely to do with the liberal upbringing, ‘hippy’ outlook of baby-boomer parents’ ability to express the thoughts and feelings of their own? Through a process of transference, a common term in psychotherapy, suggesting this is what millennials want, although there is no difference than before. Personally, I don’t see any difference in the motivations of employees today, except for a rapidly changing work landscape.

There was a demographic explosion post-war resulting in the highest birth and mortality rates of a century, due to increases in medical science, peacetime and healthcare. We are now experiencing the beginning of this increase in new pensioners. The population of pensioners is increasing as we see the baby boomers begin to retire, putting pressure on those supporting them, either physically or fiscally. Currently, every pensioner across Europe is supported by four of working age. It’s forecast this will reduce by 2060 to one pensioner for every two of working age.

The un-written contract of Jobs-for-Life our grandparents had, has now disappeared, as we see our parents and colleagues being made redundant. Vast swathes of employees and industries facing major changes due to global industrial changes, such as the ongoing ‘Lower-for-longer’ oil price crisis (I thought scarce resources were supposedly expensive?). The stability contract between employer and employee has eroded, leading to a rise in job-hopping.

100 YEAR LIFE

Two-thirds of baby-boomers are now expected to live past 80 years old, whilst only one quarter expected to at the turn of the 20th century.

It’s conceivable that a majority of children born today could live to see 100 years, as we see rapid increases in healthcare, diagnostics and treatment. This has the potential to turn-around the traditional education, work & raising a family, then retirement at 60+ into considering a working life punctuated by sabbaticals and mid-career breaks.

Against this backdrop, the added costs of supporting society with increases in school-age leaving. Many more students are opting for a degree before entering the workplace, even with the increased cost of tuition, albeit making them more suitable for modern employment. Retirement age will be increased, for the UK it will be 67 in 2020’s and possibly to 70 by 2060.

This leaves working age people with questions on how best to live their lives.

A LEARNING LIFE

Lifelong learning will be a necessity, especially in computing and related fields. Changes in the education landscape are also being experienced with the rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC’s).

Increased numbers of adult students will be more demanding of these institutions and expect more outcome based results, rather than many of the rote-learning courses criticised in the past or ‘useless’, humanities subjects. Cognitive, task-based, problem solving and interpersonal skills and abilities will be the key to this as will on-the-job learning as a pre-requisite for the future.

We are right to be aware of new technological advancements. The challenges to bear upon us are far greater, by a rapidly ageing population, increasing global competition and the life we live from cradle to grave, as we expect to live for much longer.

New business models: This obviously presents some major business opportunities to individuals and groups with relevant insights. There are many under-served sectors of society who could benefit from the application of digital skills, not least for the baby-boomer generation, one of the fastest growing users of the internet (Silver Surfers).

Global demographic changes mean our R&D efforts either at the local Country, State or European level need better co-ordination and more investment if we are to ensure we remain competitive. Innovation is a tricky subject but investment has always been key to its success.

As we see changes in the work landscape, re-education becomes a norm throughout life, it will bring other challenges, as we could see many younger graduates competing for work with much older, more experienced workers.

Change is a given & that change is possibly exponential. Over the next few decades, there will be some interesting and even quite amazing developments in the field of AI, as it possibly migrates from the Narrow to the General field.

However, we should be worrying about it less than the societal changes surrounding us.

Stuart Phythian

Owner of Phythian Consultancy

Consultancy advising Engineering & Technology companies on developing sales strategies for growth, specializing in the Middle East & Asia. Former Senior Executive at a number of US listed group companies.

Currently lives near Berlin, Germany with his family.

Interests & writes about #digitaltrends on the #futureofwork; #100yearlife; and is disappointed in the way the media inflates the importance of #AI; #BigData. There will be change but not digital armageddon


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