October 12, 2018
The morning began with screening an inspiring episode of Next Jobs, Bloomberg’s new mini-documentary digital video series that explores careers of the future. “Entrepreneurs create tons of jobs,” said Ito, who is also the series’ host. “I wanted to profile these – the foot soldiers of the new economy.”
The episode featured Abdoul Salam Nizeyimana, who leads a team at the world’s first drone delivery service, transporting blood to remote hospitals in the mountains of Rwanda quickly and simply. “You can’t study for this,” Ito said, noting that Nizeyimana has degrees in engineering, not drone technology. “You have to be gutsy enough to take the opportunity when it comes.”
Watch: Bloomberg Next Jobs
After the screening, Ito sat down for a fireside chat with Cham, an early-stage investor in startups creating the future of work (he’s also a member of the Shift Commission on Work, Workers and Technology). Together they explored what the jobs of the future might look like – for machines as well as humans.
“Machine learning is based on data of the world as it is,” Cham said. “And thus, machine learning and much of AI is profoundly conservative. The introduction of little changes and variation remains an important part of what people will be doing.”
Ito agreed, citing a recent conversation she had with MIT economist Erik Brynjolfsson. “Right now humans have three advantages over computers,” Ito said Bryjolfsson told her. “One is physical dexterity – it’s still very hard for a robot to hold a T-shirt, for example. The second thing is social intelligence. The third is creativity. The last two are way far out in the future.”
Bloomberg’s Stone – whose dedicated team of journalists covers tech developments across the globe – then guided a wide-ranging conversation on the future of work with a panel that included Workfront’s Melin and Citrix’s Hamlin as well as Cham and Ito.
Stone highlighted a key contradiction: “Technology frees us to think creatively, and yet we feel we’re drowning in the tools that tech provides us,” he said. “Sometimes the biggest barrier to productivity is the productivity tools.”
Workfront has been conducting long-term research on the future of work that helps illuminate that point. Melin said that Workfront’s survey – which this year included thousands of companies both inside and outside the U.S. – has found that knowledge workers often don’t have time to innovate.
“That’s largely because enterprises have digitized function by function,” she said. The result is that collaboration across functions has become more difficult. “There are transactional systems for HR, for finance, for customer relationship management,” she added, “but there’s no place for your work.” Melin believes that the future of work will include operational systems that allow workers to manage projects in context, and with greater visibility across the business.
Hamlin added that task-based technology will be a big part of that shift. Augmented intelligence from analytics and machine learning, for example, could power “digital assistants that help prep you for tasks or learn how to automate your tasks,” she said.
Such technology would allow workers to tap into various tools in a centralized, as-needed way, she said: “Whatever the feature of an app that a person needs, they get that.” And it could speed the trend toward virtual, remote workspaces.
Changes like these could also jumpstart productivity growth in the U.S., which Ito noted “has been anemic – and no one really understands why.” Comparing today’s situation with the introduction of PC’s around twenty years ago, she sees a similar learning curve. Desktops didn’t immediately deliver productivity gains, as workers needed training and companies needed to understand all the use cases. But when they did, “it was one of the biggest productivity booms in the American economy in a very long time,” Ito said. “We could be in a similar phase right now.”
Demographic shifts will also contribute to a significant transition in the future of work, Cham said. “Everyone worries about whether there will be enough jobs in the future – but the demographics suggest that the real problem will be not enough workers.” That’s going to mean a lot more bots.
“The bots are going to be very good at making decisions that take two seconds,” Cham added, but “the bots are going to be very bad at making decisions that have implications for two years, or twenty years.” That means those who can clearly communicate their viewpoint and vision will be poised to succeed: “My guess is that if you’re very good at making hard decisions, having the rest of it automated you’re going to be happy about,” Cham said. “Having the skills to think critically and persuade is going to be important for a long time.”
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