Singularity and LongevityBy Byron Amores | Fri, 03/19/2021 - 12:54
Recently, somebody asked my opinion on what fundamental changes will be seen in the future of work. In a recent column, I made reference to diversity and inclusion, the digital gap, the gig economy and the balance of well-being. However, with the new question, I understood that the answer required a greater level of depth to characterize some aspects that are the basis of the aforementioned topics. For this reason, this column returns to the basics to look for the reasons behind these changes.
It is important to understand that there are great global forces, some observable and others not, that have an impact and influence on the current reality, and the reality that is still to come. These are trend triggers, and trends will be reflected in practical changes, some in the short term and some in the long term. Regarding these macro forces, there are two to which I am going to refer: singularity and longevity. Despite the fact that these have several aspects and implications in day-to-day life, I will focus on those that have to do with the future of work.
On one hand, we have the singularity that refers to the accelerated technological advance to the point where artificial intelligence will be at the same level as human intelligence and will have the ability to use its own resources to continue developing. According to one of the scientists who has studied this aspect, Ray Kurzweil, humanity is just a few years away from witnessing this fact that will undoubtedly mark a before and after in the world of technology.
There is no doubt that technological advance is having an impact on the future of work. In some cases, these changes were accelerated by the pandemic; however, I consider that it is only the first thread in the ball of yarn. For example, one of the sectors most affected in terms of employment was retail trade and, of course, the industries that revolve around this type of business. In this sector, the loss of employment, which was expected to come years later, was present at this time. Digital channels shortened distances in the producer, sales and consumer chain much more efficiently. Hundreds of thousands or millions of jobs were eliminated due to the pandemic, but in a few months many roles were replaced by digital commerce and the new positions created demand new skills, among which digital skills take on greater relevance.
The above is just one example of what has been said many times, that technology will displace jobs, but that new jobs with different requirements will be created at the same time. The question is whether the same people will fill the new positions that demand different skills, or will it be new people? Are organizations taking a proactive role to manage this situation before it becomes reality or are they just firing and hiring? In this sense, the singularity will bring more challenges to organizations, such as that mentioned above, and being aware that the process is still underway, the most important thing is to anticipate and act proactively but, moreover, responsibly.
When it comes to longevity, this concept is also closely tied to technology. The technological advances that range from knowledge and control of the human genome map to the ability to 3D print human organs will allow extending life expectancy. With more years of life, the retirement and pension systems will be seriously affected, and their sustainability impacted, unless the retirement age is postponed. This means that there will be more age diversity in organizations and measures need to be taken for adequate coexistence.
The combination of technological advances and the prolongation of the years of life can produce virtuous synergies if they are detected and managed in time, otherwise it can turn into a train crash. This generational coexistence in companies generates the digital gap to which I had referred in the past. Regarding this gap, here is the perspective of the president of Northwestern University, who sees it as the three illiteracies: (1) technological illiteracy, which would be the inability of people to manage the technological elements and tools necessary to carry out their work; (2) data illiteracy, that has to do with not being able to interpret and draw valuable conclusions regarding the information and data they have and that can have an impact on the company; and (3) social illiteracy, which basically occurs when social interaction is increasingly scarce and relationship skills are lost.
Based on the above, I can see that the challenges faced by organizations are at two levels. In the first place, they need to find a way to implement technology so as not to be behind their competitors (digital transformation) and in the second place, they need to have the internal capacity of talent that can manage these changes (upskilling and reskilling). From the worker's point of view, all these changes bring an imbalance in individual and collective well-being. For this reason, it is increasingly necessary to use technological means that allow organizations to have a continuous diagnosis of the level of well-being of employees and know how to act with precision in decision-making and specific actions for each case. Fortunately, today the means exist to be able to do it remotely, to be scalable and efficient.
In conclusion, the forces that have been driving the changes and advances that we are seeing in the labor market are already marking organizational behavior. Today's businesses have the risk of becoming traditional and/or going out of the market. New business models that include associated technology are more likely to succeed. Depending on how companies adopt new technologies or postpone their decision, it will mark a sustainable and competitive future.