For decades now we have looked at the future from far, and mainly through the lens of Sci-Fi movies such as Star Wars ,Blade Runner, Transformers and the like. It is closer now – much closer – literally knocking on our doors. The next few years are likely to bring unprecedented change and we need to prepare for it now. The context talks about “Futurist David Wood on How to Manage Today’s Disruptive Environment”.
A 7000+ strong UK based community called “The Futurists”, is helping industries understand and manage this change through deep analysis and tangible solutions. Passionately leading this fraternity of Futurists is Symbian co-founder, David Wood, a trailblazer in the smartphone world.
In his current role as a futurist and trans-humanist, David Wood analyses radical scenarios for the next 3-40 years. This analysis helps industry leaders get a broader perspective on the future, to better manage the present.
As he predicts the world of tomorrow, he unravels how business and work life will witness a sea change due to paradigm changing technological shifts
Crystallising Solutions Without A Crystal Ball
The world of future is defined by exponential changes and massive disruptions that may change the very DNA of organizations as we know them.
There is no exact way of knowing how these changes will unfold, but there is a definitive understanding that the advent of new technological trends are leading a brand new revolution in industry. The pace of progress for these trends, can often be slow in their nascent stages before accelerating rapidly and becoming dominant.
In order to ride these trends successfully, industry leaders must prepare themselves to effectively strategize in the present. This is done through a thorough evaluation of possible outcomes, and a process of foresight that is actually aided by hindsight- looking back on prior disruptive trends in various industries and mapping their trajectory of change, in order to chart one’s own path to stability during upheaval.
In addition to a 20/20 vision of the past, a course of action can be pro-actively prepared to equip organisations. David Wood recommends that organisations should split their focus across 3 parallel perspectives-
Fulfilling commitments in terms of operational excellence, hiring, financial and personnel management.
- The Foreseeable Future:
A focus on the incremental future- where organisations search for growth, know their product on a deeper level in order to reach more consumers and find ways to improve the product.
- Game Changers:
The possibility of creating a new future altogether, and gaining competitive advantage by leveraging major disruptions and shifting trends in the industry.
Viable solutions for success in changing times can be found by organisations willing to adapt, learn from their mistakes and form agile mechanisms in order to manage the variable pace of change.
The Elephant In The Room
Presently successful companies are in danger of being trampled by the “elephant” of the next big technological disruption, if they choose to remain unaware of it.
Automobiles once trampled over Horse Drawn Carriages, and since the advent of Computers, increasingly efficient forms of software regularly displace their competitors in the market.
Today, the ability to survive and thrive is determined by businesses that steadily commit to technological growth, and exploring avenues within the realm of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
David Wood touts AI as the kingpin of an entirely new reality- affecting change across multiple sectors, and in a way that is more extensive than has ever been seen before.
Using The Fourth
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is now in full swing, and is entirely defined by gaining capabilities in AI.
In the first wave of AI, human beings were largely instrumental- having to programme the AI into performing tasks. The new wave of AI however focuses on deep learning and neural networks, making AI capable of learning, thinking and adapting independently- just like humans – and with a momentous increase in efficiency and profit.
Today, AI is being successfully employed in a variety of fields- be it financial trading algorithms, robo advisors, virtual characters inside video games, customer support agents, virtual assistants, chatbots, creative directions in art or theories in science and engineering.
It has also shown great strides in emotional intelligence and affective computing, being able to tell the different nuances of facial expressions, tone of voice, moods and cultural languages, and is now being employed for a self-aware task wherein AI tools are used to write better AI. For example, Google’s Auto ML- a learning software which learns to write learning software.
Since AI is the axis of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, David Wood draws attention to the new sectors of focus that will emerge with it. These sectors are can be broadly categorized as the NBIC-
- Nano-Technology: Manipulating atoms to create newer products.
- Bio-Technology: Understanding genes, studying patterns of Epigenomes and Biomes.
- Info-Technology: Drawing conclusions from multitudes of data.
- Cogno-Technology: Enhancing how Neurons work.
NBIC covers the spectrum of physics and biology, hardware and software. The relationship between the four of these disciplines will lay the blueprint for new life and new machines in the future.
As Robots begin to produce enough goods cheaply and are able to maintain quality, the scale and pace of automation will be so massive that humans will be left with little time to re-calibrate their skill-set for other jobs.
Detractors of AI believe that such a change is merely a myth, and even if it comes true- it will lead to an eventual doomsday scenario for humanity.
Wood disagrees, elaborating that humans are meant to change the state of nature with technology, and even alter the nature of their own humanity. He cites the example of test tube babies. The initial attitude of society was to condemn it forcefully- religious groups called it a dangerous act of playing god, politicians railed against it for adding to the problem of overpopulation and doctors themselves were vary of its painful effects on the mother’s body.
And yet, as the first test tube baby was born, the outcome was beautiful, with a healthy infant and a happy family. This changed the prevailing opinion in society for the better, and today it is hailed as the perfect use of tech for human life.
He however cautions that as machines replace human effort, people could develop feelings of alienation, unequal access and a sense of either being unemployed or under-employed. This discontent within the workforce could be exploited for political manipulations, leading to a daunting future defined by uncertainty and chaos.
Universal Basic Income:
To avoid this situation, he favors introduction of “universal basic income” in the future- where the basic needs (education, healthcare) are available freely to all. His position on such a social security net is different from those who believe it stifles the drive to succeed, and creates “lazier” people. In fact, he believes it will encourage people to be actively experimental and productive, as was the case with famed author JK Rowling who created a masterpiece while on state security.
David professes that the cyclical process of education, work and retirement will transform to make way for an ever-evolving process of growth, where learning and earning happen simultaneously as humans do not need to carry the constant burden of work, and are not bound to the same exhaustive timelines.
The educational competencies of the new age will cease to focus on specific disciplines such as STEM- but be more focussed on learning how to learn, to research newer human capabilities, to develop collaborative and imaginative skills to conduct this research and to be increasingly emotionally intelligent in order to keep evolving and changing.
A Brand New World
Since AI is taking over every spectrum of human work and life, the future presents a brand new landscape of possibilities. If leveraged effectively humans could enter an era of inventive thought, creating and innovating with greater momentum.
Organisations could lead the movement for positive AI, by encouraging competencies for current and future workforce in the following ways-
- Research: Conceiving and evaluating scenarios based on technological trends, human trends and social trends.
- Better Foresight: By evaluating the past, embracing uncertainties of the future and learning from failure.
- Agility: By developing agile mechanisms for the future
- Collaboration: Finding ways to stay relevant by collaborating with other industry leaders.
Soon, the world’s most valuable companies will be the ones leading with AI, so the task of building enduring, positive and efficient systems rests with industry leaders today.
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