The Future Of Work

10409771_10152197791227862_6285459882636229691_nI’ve noticed recently how things come in waves, this last week has been all about the structural changes to work over the next 3-10 years.  First up was a discussion with Stu about the changing mix of task, process, information and knowledge work.  Then I started the next book in my reading queue and it was The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies and finally a colleague at work asked if he could discuss career prospects with an eye on long term changes in work.  The book and the discussions meshed nicely with research that I have been doing in this area over the last couple of years.

One thing’s for sure work is changing, it’s changing in a way that we have never seen before, maybe faster than the industrial revolution and less predictably.  We’ve past the ‘knee’ of the exponential growth curve, past the point at which change seems linear and predictable and we are heading to a world where change becomes so rapid that many of us will struggle to adapt. 

These changes are going to  affect everything, not just the type and mix of work that we do, but also the design of our homes, our office buildings and cities, how we keep social order.  Companies and governments are going to have to grapple with a new set of difficult challenges, on top of global warming and unsustainable resource consumption.  The adaptable will thrive,  the rest, well that’s a worry.

These changes are all rooted in the exponential change associated with technologies that are based on information processing, or impacted by it.  Think tanks are already proposing radical changes like progressively reducing working hours to 21 hours a week.  This achieves two things it shares our the work that’s left amongst more people and it reduces wages and hence unsustainable consumption, but this is just a start.

In this post I was going to explore these changes, but I’ve realised that I’m just scratching the surface of the information that I need to understand it properly.  It seems a bit unfair though not to say anything about the changes to come, so here are a few badly informed guesses, that are IT related:

  1. Highly skilled IT operations and IT technical architecture work will reduce dramatically as the infrastructure and workloads move to the cloud.  The logical architecture of the workloads will be done once at design time and subsequent deployments and all operations will be largely automated.
  2. IT task workers will come under intense pressure as their work is further automated by IVR agents (like Siri), self service tools and developing world workers who no longer need developed world language skills because automated voice and text translation will become mainstream.
  3. The services we currently interact with manually on the web will all become programmable components, exposed through an API that allow them to be consumed as components in drag and drop development environments (Like IFTTT and Zapier).  These services can be fully automated, or include people (like Amazon Turk)
  4. Specialist service providers will dramatically increase and publish their services or skills on the web, accessible through online market places like Task Rabbit at the low end and Innocentive at the high end.  Getting work done, no longer means hiring someone to do it, it means a few clicks in the browser or taps in an app, from getting someone to drive across town and collect an urgent parcel, to getting a new logo designed, to solving an important business challenge.
  5. A huge pool of well educated knowledge workers will enter the workforce as online learning portals provide access to every level of education from Kahn Academy to MIT and a hundred others, including online services that specialise in getting people certified by big names like Microsoft and Cisco.
  6. Jobs that used to be the excusive domain of ‘knowledge workers’ will be increasingly automated by cloud powered AI systems that can automate research and diagnosis, write reports in seconds, use algorithms to make decisions, spot anomalies and problems and automate the solutions.  The embryonic versions of these systems beat the best of the best at chess and Jeopardy, are already out performing humans in several areas including safely driving cars.
  7. Enterprises knowledge workers in the developed world will be decimated as they fail to compete with these specialist service providers, AI systems, programmable web services and the well educated rapidly growing world population.  What’s left in the enterprise will be the orchestrator’s and problem solvers who have deep system level knowledge and work well in high performance agile teams.

These changes though are the tip of the iceberg as similar changes sweep through every profession.  There’s a positive story to tell as well though:

  1. Everyone in the world is will get access to the incredible bounty of free and low cost entertainment resources on the web.  We can fill our time ‘consuming’ at little cost to the planet.
  2. All the worlds information is becoming available, providing a huge opportunity for people to recombine existing information in new ways and to innovate
  3. It’s never been easier for good ideas to get funded and become scalable products/services and for these products to reach huge global markets
  4. The rich will continue to get richer and new jobs will be created that service the rich

I’m at the beginning of an exiting journey to understand these changes, I have a lot of research to do, but it’s a vitally important area to understand.

The photo today is of the footpath that surrounds Fairhaven Lake in St Annes.  It makes a good approximation to one of those ‘road ahead’ pictures that suit a blog post like this one.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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