From Edison to Turing and beyond: how technology continues to transform the way we work

Since humans first discovered how to create fire, we have had the power to transform our world as we uncover more sophisticated technology. The first, second and third industrial revolutions were the result of technology disruption—steam and water power, electricity and assembly lines, and the microchip. These industrial revolutions transformed the way we worked and lived.

And then, in the summer of 1956, a young mathematician named Alan Turing unwittingly planted the seed that gave birth to artificial intelligence (AI) when he set out to answer the question: “Can machines think?”

Did he know then that he’d just unlocked the door that would lead to the fourth industrial revolution? Also known as Industry 4.0, this new era is a combination of physical, digital and biological spheres, with the internet, Internet of Things (IoT), big data and artificial intelligence (AI) playing a key role.

How AI is changing the way we work

Today, we know that machines can think and that we can train them to become smarter, which in turn helps us to make better decisions.

Not everyone is convinced of its value. Some believe that AI’s greatest impact will be to put people out of work, while others are adamant that it will be the next best thing for workers and employers alike.

Accenture’s Mark Knickrehm summarizes the debate in his article, “How will AI change work?” He identifies five schools of thought on what the future might look like:

  1. Dystopians believe that machines will cut jobs and replace humans.
  2. Utopians believe that AI will bring unprecedented wealth, getting on with the work while humans pursue more meaningful tasks.
  3. Technology optimists believe that AI will boost productivity and economic growth—but to make sure the wealth is spread evenly, education is needed.
  4. Productivity skeptics believe that productivity levels will become very low.
  5. Optimistic realists believe that AI will boost productivity and that new jobs will be created—but more research is needed on productivity, employment and wages.

Knickrehm rightly points out that the future might be unclear, but one thing is certain: how we use and interact with AI will change how we work and live. What this future looks like will depend on business leaders’ commitment to accept the new world order and adapt accordingly.

It’s absolutely critical to prepare your workforce for this new world of work. In my next post, I’ll take a deeper look at the changing roles and opportunities smart technologies are creating for the future workforce.

For more information, download the Future Workforce reports for Banking and Insurance. To find out more about digital HR in FS or to join us at the Change Directors Forum and People Innovation Forum in London, please contact me here or on Twitter @knott_nic.

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