Tuesday 06 February 2018

The Human Side to the Digital Revolution

 

By Tim Baxter, TCO Associate

 

The last few years have seen increasing concern about the role of digitalisation and its impact on people’s lives. The tech community is full of hope and drive but the common man regards it as the reason for feeling left behind by the pace of change. I believe that this is the main reason behind the protest vote which has resulted in Brexit and the election of Donald Trump to name just two examples. It represents a vote against the present system rather than for a meaningful alternative.

Connectivity means change happens faster, impacts further and is felt sooner than ever before. It is driven by The Three ‘A’s - Automation, Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics. Automation, or automatic control, can be seen in robotics and is the force behind The Internet of Things which allows your fridge to speak to your cellphone and potentially every other electrical device you own! Artificial Intelligence is the ability for machines to learn from the environment they are operating in and then change behaviour accordingly . Finally data analytics pores through data looking for patterns and trends to create information to make decision making more effective.

A 2017 study by the McKinsey Global Institute entitled ‘A Future That Works - Automation, Employment and Productivity’ estimates that 60% of all current occupations contain at least 30% of activities that are technically automatable merely by adapting currently available technology. These percentages increase dramatically when jobs include a high level of predictable physical activities and collecting or processing data. This means that both manual and knowledge workers will see a change in what they do and how they do it. Is this then in line with the worst fears of protest voters? If the system stays the same as it is presently is then yes, it is time to start worrying. However, the combined impact of the 3 As is highly disruptive to the system itself. Brynjolfsson and McAfee suggest that we are at the start of a great restructuring where how we work both as organisations and individuals is lagging far behind the advances in technology.

This creates an interesting situation. It makes no sense for humans to do activities which automation can do more efficiently and effectively – we cannot ‘out-machine’ the machines. So what can we do? The answer is in our imperfections! Richard Florida states that ‘Human creativity is the ultimate economic resource’. Humans can see the world for what is not and what it could be. While digitalisation enables, it is how it is guided by humans that makes the difference. Those companies that can create the conditions to harness the distinctly human side of humans will have a bright future. Those that don’t, won’t!