Pretending to see the future
By David Watts - Commercial Director, Level
The Futurists, people of a certain age are most familiar with, are those that inhabited the Blitz Club in London between 1979 and 1980. Founded by the late Steve Strange, it took it’s style cues from Bowie, Bolan and Roxy Music attracting artists, designers and musicians for a weekly gathering in a cellar in Covent Garden. After giving rise to a musical and style movement that included Visage, Spandau Ballet, Heaven 17, The Human League, Duran Duran and a whole host of other more peripheral bands, it closed it’s doors before the decade had really begun with the movement itself largely dead by 1982.
The original birth of “Futurism” itself is largely attributed to “avant-garde” Italian poet Filippo Tomasso Marinetti at the turn of the last century. Again, forming a movement, this group largely consisting of Italian artists and musicians, firmly embraced the future and eschewed the past. They even wrote their own manifesto of “Futurism” to underpin their cause.
"We want no part of it, the past", Marinetti wrote,
"we the young and strong Futurists!".
With a passion for speed, technology, youth and violence together with Industrialisation, they rebelled against everything from the past and triumphed originality above everything else. As World War I commenced, some 5 years after the original Futurism movement had been born, it was at an end.
All very nice, but, “how is this relevant to me?” you ask. Well, I’ve noticed there seems to be a bit of a “futurist revival” on Linkedin right now. (deliciously ironic, don’t you think?) I must have read about half a dozen articles from self-proclaimed futurists (some might say prophets of doom) predicting the end of the world as we know it. Modern day shamen paint a dystopian business landscape with mass unemployment largely related to the advent of Artificial Intelligence.
“Artificial intelligence and robots will kill many jobs.”
Jack Ma CEO Alibaba January 2018
A study by Oxford University earlier this year forecast that “that 50% of all jobs are at risk...in a decade or two...” So glad that they were “precise” on the timescales. The impact of AI will be seen across all sectors apparently. Even surgeons are not immune and “could be replaced by robots that outstrip their dexterity by some distance” according to one report I read on here recently. Not according to the colorectal surgeon I spent last weekend with, he isn’t planning to retire anytime soon and scoffs at the notion of being replaced by a “lesser being”.
Forbes though, are paid up members of the positivity and opportunity society:
“Business leaders are optimistic that AI technologies will ultimately create more opportunity for employees than they will eliminate, with C-level executives widely agreeing that AI technologies will have a positive effect on their workforce...”
Artificial Intelligence Isn't Killing Jobs; It's Killing Business Models, Forbes January 2018
In short, there are plenty of jobs to be created in addition to those that will undoubtedly be lost. Roles will change and the likelihood is that they will be redefined (at least in the short term) with automation of drudgery becoming commonplace.
I believe that whilst AI is absolutely here and is undoubtedly disruptive, it can be sustainable and ethical. Most business models I have seen focus on the automation of routine processes and elimination of error, rather than elimination of jobs.
Ultimately, it means that more time is available to undertake more meaningful activities, but the amount of work remains the same. It’s just fulfilled differently. All organisations, whether commercial or public, have an imperative to provide world-class customer experience. Many will have Service Level Agreements with targets to be met. They are all resource constrained and the age old problem of “getting more from less” is ever thus.
Many AI led projects will already have business cases and continue to do so. Return on Investment continues to be imperative, but I have yet to see a true business case that is purely designed to eliminate jobs. Whilst increased productivity is at the core of the majority of use cases, there are a surprising number of projects that do not have a robust quantitative business case underpinning them. Here, AI is being used to deliver qualitative, softer benefits which in turn lead to greater employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction and ultimately greater employee retention.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is live and underway. It will undoubtedly bring change to society and ultimately our workplace. In what form, we don't know, we can only really speculate. As with its predecessors, it creates fear, uncertainty and doubt. What we do know is that roles are already being redefined as Artificial Intelligence is becoming embraced.
However next time a “Futurist” offers an insight into the future, remind yourself it may just as well be a former attendee of the Blitz Club or a member of The Human League such has been the true accuracy of those predicting the future in the past!
The future, today
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