Prepare For The Impact of Digital Labor Now
by Betsy Burton
With everything happening in the world today; pandemic, economic challenges, political upheaval, and societal changes, it is easy to become hyper focused on our current-state. It is however important for all business and technology leaders to also dedicate some of their time to look into the future and understand how they need to prepare today for possible future trends and states.
One of the areas I am focused on is the emergence of digital labor and its impact on how we architect our business (business strategy and models, people, process, information, and technology). Digital labor refers to the AI-enabled computer applications that are used to support automation of tasks that were formerly performed by humans.
The questions that become more interesting with the evolution of digital labor are about the value and impact of this evolution, both positive and negative. The reality is, there is both a value and cost associated with the growth of AI-enabled technologies and digital labor.
Singularity: The Evolution of AI-enabled Technology
I have been reading and listening to a lot of the work of Ray Kurzweil, author of “The Singularity Is Near” along with a number of other books and articles. In many of Mr. Kurzweil’s writings, he discusses the exponential growth of technology, including nano technology, AI, and robotics. He also explores how we are increasingly capable of mapping the human brain, which will lead to the time that technology will be able to demonstrate the characteristics of human emotional intelligence.
He predicts a time in the future (singularity) “during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed. Although neither utopian nor dystopian, this epoch will transform the concepts that we rely on to give meaning to our lives, from our business models to the cycle of human life, including death itself."
Mr. Kurzweil is in general an optimist. He talks about the ability for a young woman in Africa to have access to the world of knowledge and information at her fingertips. He talks about the ability for organizations to be able to support new and dynamic business models.
The potential value of singularity is a future where humans are free to pursue knowledge and creativity because they are being supported, enhanced, and augmented by technology.
The other side of the coin, is a future where humans are secondary to technology. Vernor Vinge, the retired professor of mathematics and computer science at San Diego State University, wrote a paper in 1993 called “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era.” He explores a darker side to singularity whereby humans become supplanted or surpassed by their AI-empowered technology counter parts.
Another discussion is the impact of technology evolutions on diverse populations. Will AI-enabled technologies lead to a democratization of information? Or will it exacerbate income and knowledge inequality?
Don’t Get Caught Unaware
The sure way to for AI-enabled technologies to surpass humans is for us to be unaware of the costs and implications of emerging technologies. It is also a high risk if humans turn off their own brains and depend completely on emerging technologies. It is also a risk if organizations are not making conscious decisions about ethical application and use of technology.
Business and IT leaders are dealing with complex business, people, economic, social, and technology issues today. However, every business and IT leader must spend some of their time preparing for the future of work, business and their workforce.
As Ray Kurzweil and many other future-state thinkers point out, these changes are occurring exponentially. Organizations that think they can use past performance to determine future changes will be caught unprepared. Begin to strategically prepare now for your business and personal impact (value and cost) of emerging AI technologies.