Thought leadership on how to future-proof your organisation and workforce to drive success
Updated: Jan 8, 2022
Technology is enabling mankind to accelerate towards the complete convergence between the natural and virtual worlds. Some people are excited by the endless possibilities and opportunities that it will create. Others are less optimistic and believe mankind is heading to its inevitable doom. The truth probably isn’t so black and white.
Science fiction as science fact
The natural and virtual realities will become intertwined to form a new type of hybrid reality that will be indistinguishable, or rather, interdependent to those born into it. It will be much like how the internet and social media have become indispensable to this generation. If you have not already seen it, I would encourage you to watch 'Altered Carbon' on Netflix. It's a wonderful perspective of a dystopian world where our future society has been transformed by technology, leading to human bodies being interchangeable and death no longer being permanent. It's science fiction so you've got to take it with a pinch of salt.
The truth is nobody can predict the future with absolute certainty. Nevertheless, we enjoy being entertained by programs such as ‘Black Mirror’ and other shows that explore modern society, particularly with regards to the unanticipated dark and sinister consequences of new technologies. The irony doesn't escape me that many technologies that we’ve gotten accustomed to were all seen on the Star Trek TV series before they were invented in the real world. These include: tablet computers, tractor beams, tricorders, flip communicators (and wearable badge communicators), hyposprays, replicators, cloaking devices, voice interface computers (e.g. Siri, Alexa), transparent aluminium, Bluetooth headsets (first worn by Uhura), google glass, portable memory, focused ultrasound technology, biometric data tracking for health and verifying identity, GPS, automatic doors, big-screen displays, universal translators, teleconferencing, a visual prosthesis (bionic eyes) for the visually impaired and diagnostic beds.
Were these mere coincidences or did Star Trek inspire the inventors of these technologies? You decide. Either way, the lines are becoming ever more blurred between science fiction and science fact as far as technological innovation is concerned. To conclude the Star Trek point, there are a few technologies we’re still waiting for: warp drives/matter-antimatter power, transporters (“beam me up Scotty”), holodecks and moneyless society. As of 2017, more than 75% of the Chinese population were using digital payments in preference to cash, and the number continues to rise exponentially towards a cashless society.
Thus far, we have seen the evolution of the 3D experiences from 'virtual reality' to 'augmented reality', to 'mixed reality'. Here's a brief explanation of these 3D realities/experiences:
Augmented reality (AR) adds digital elements to a live view often by using the camera on a smartphone. Examples of augmented reality experiences include Snapchat lenses and the game Pokemon Go.
Virtual reality (VR) implies a complete 'immersion experience' that shuts out the physical world. Using VR devices such as HTC Vive, Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard, users can be transported into real-world and imagined environments.
In a mixed reality (MR) experience, which combines elements of both AR and VR, real-world and digital objects interact. Mixed reality technology is just now starting to take off with Microsoft’s HoloLens being one of the most notable early mixed reality technology.
'X' Reality or Extended Reality (XR) refers to all real and virtual environments generated by computer graphics and wearables. The 'X' in XR is simply a variable that can stand for any letter. It could also represent a yet to be invented 3D experience technology.
An autonomous future
Closer to reality, we continue to witness the race towards technological commercial dominance as an incentive and reward for first-mover (first to market), particularly around autonomous vehicles or self-driving cars. At the 2019 SXSW in Austin, Texas, Gorden Wagener, Daimler Chief Design Officer, talked about how Mercedes will be transforming the car in the next ten to fifteen years “probably more than in the past 130 years.”
He talked about taking the notion of luxury to the next level in light of autonomous cars. Once autonomous cars become commonplace, sustainable and safe, people will need the car to serve a different function to what it does today. As AI becomes our drivers, and we are all its passengers, we’ll need the car to create or have a setting that is highly conducive for other activities such as work, entertainment and rest – much like a living room or an office space (especially for long trips).
AI promises the automation of repetitive and administrative tasks at an industrial scale to free us up to become more creative and spend time on high-value endeavours and personal leisure. This is just the beginning. As AI continues to advance at pace through Machine learning* and Deep learning*, we will desire for it to do much more.
We will rely on machine learning and real-time predictive analytics (uses past patterns to determine the potential future outcome), prescriptive analytics (provides a precise answer to a question) and cognitive analytics (mimics the human brain by drawing inferences from existing data and patterns) in the way that we’ve never seen before. Machines will be teaching machines and writing new algorithms, without human input, to solve different types of problems such as a pandemic outbreak like the Ebola virus, Cholera, and Influenza.
As machine learning reaches maturity, AI’s could potentially predict pandemics before it becomes a reality. At its best, we’d be able to take preventative measures. This would be risk management at an unprecedented scale. Algorithms will not only provide insights and support decision-making; they will also take critical life-saving decisions on the spot that cannot wait for human intervention.
We cannot escape the ethical implications of this and the possibility of catastrophic errors if AI makes a mistake or expresses its innate bias, in other words, the conscious and unconscious bias of its human proprietor at the detriment of another group or race. This must sound like a James Bond movie storyline. Unfortunately, it’s a very real concern. I expect and hope that the UN will put in place international laws that will protect all of the world’s people from the misuse of AI technologies.
A subset of artificial intelligence is involved with the creation of algorithms that can modify itself without human intervention to produce desired output by feeding itself through structured data.
A subset of machine learning where algorithms are created and function similar to those in machine learning, but there are numerous layers of these algorithms, each providing a different interpretation to the data it feeds on. Such a network of algorithms is called an artificial neural network. It is designed to imitate the function of the human neural networks present in the brain.
We will all be living in hyper-connected environments, including our workplace. Hyper-connectivity means that everything is communicating: people to people, people to machines, and machine to machine. This will generate vast amounts of data. For those organisations that can leverage this to their advantage and use it to improve the customer and employee experience, they will have a competitive advantage.
Much has been said about product speed to market as a competitive advantage. However, with access to huge amounts of data from all touchpoints, and the wide range of platforms and technology ecosystems that organisations now have, customers and employees alike will expect brands to address issues and complaints much quicker too (ideally in real-time), and to a delightful outcome.
The future-proof employee
PwC consultancy analysed over 200,000 jobs in 29 countries to explore the economic benefits and potential challenges posed by automation, AI and robotics. The results are as follows:
$15tn potential boost to global GDP from AI by 2030
3% of jobs at potential risk of automation by early 2020s
30% of jobs at potential risk of automation by mid-2030s
44% of workers with low education at risk of automation by mid-2030s
Cost-sensitive organisations and industries are already seeking out ways to enable greater efficiency and productivity through AI adoption to execute low value and high-volume repetitive tasks. AI promises to free up employees’ time to innovate, refine, and improve on the expertise and capabilities of organisations.
Therefore, employees must be able to develop value-added skills. Soft skills developed through social and emotional interactions will be highly valued as a result. The required key competencies will be around: collaboration, teamwork, communication, emotional intelligence, proactivity, problem-solving, persuasion skills, negotiation skills, creative thinking, adaptive leadership skills, entrepreneurialism, continuous learning and a willingness to develop new skills.
Furthermore, employees that will excel will be those that will be outcome-driven. They will demonstrate autonomous characteristics and they will use their drive to proactively solve problems for the greater good of their teams, colleagues, and organisation. Their sense of commitment, industriousness and professional ethics will endear them to others, thus securing their position and longevity.
Research from Harvard University shows that 85% of job success comes from soft skills and only 15% from technical skills.
Creating a culture for success
Organisations who want to stay on top must be customer-and-employee centric. That means that customers and employees must be top of its agenda, along with the community in which it operates. In August 2019, a group of chief executive officers of nearly 200 major U.S. corporations, issued a statement with a new definition of the “purpose of a corporation.”
The reimagined idea of a corporation drops the age-old notion that they function first and foremost to serve their shareholders and maximize profits. At the forefront of their business goals are:
Investing in employees
Delivering value to customers
Dealing ethically with suppliers
Supporting outside communities
When an organisation has a clear mission and an authentic purpose that is meaningful, ethical, compelling and altruistic, it not only attracts employees that want to change the world for the better, but it will likely motivate, drive performance and staff retention. If the organisational culture has values that are aligned to its core purpose, and it not only believes in them but embodies them across its operations, then it will likely build a successful legacy and experience longevity.
The companies of the future will focus on building strong teams who share their values. Their employees will be continuous learners, and their leaders will create an active learning organisation too. Their teams will be creative, innovative, adaptable and flexible who proactively solve problems to create the desired outcomes.
It’s an exciting time ahead if we embrace it and act responsibly with the plethora of opportunities that AI technology promises us.