SxSW Insights Part Two – The Future of Work
For the second instalment of our insight pieces off the back of our recent trip to SxSW, our focus turns to the future of work.
With the rise of AI and robotics being such a focus of the conference, it’s all too easy for an investigation in to the “future of work” to be a sobering exercise. The picture painted to us by Stephen Evans-Freke during the Empowering a Billion Women session highlights this all too well. Without even looking too far forwards, it’s easy to imagine a world in which a people-free manufacturing process is fully automated, producing neatly packed parcels and depositing them in to the back of an autonomous delivery vehicle which then makes its way to our homes – dodging the driverless cars and Ubers filling the roads. In the fields we see driverless tractors sowing the fields and fully automated cowsheds efficiently churning out dairy produce while overhead autonomous drones are delivering Amazon parcels. He begged the question – where do the humans fit in to this picture?
This was a theme further explored in How Do You Keep Your Company Human in 2030?. Here we learnt that economists have predicted that if you earn over $40/h, you are 4% likely to have lost your job to automation by 2030. If you earn up to $40/h, that figure rises to 31% and if you earn $20 or less per hour, there is a staggering 83% chance that you will have been replaced by a machine. We are on the verge of one of the most disruptive and transformative periods of societal change – and the technology industry is not exempt! Amanda Richardson, Chief Data and Strategy Officer of HotelTonight.com, in the AI Replaces Search session, made the point that the rise of AI and voice search could wipe out the need for entire platforms. What happens to the teams of front end developers employed to build websites when websites don’t exist?
How do we keep pace with the relentless progress of change? Does all the responsibility lie at a governmental level to design the safety net catching those left without a function in the workforce – to reskill us and pull us back in to society? Are governments best placed to face these challenges? Does Universal Basic Income sound like such a bad idea after all? In an increasingly insular political climate, how do we ensure policies are in place to enable global collaboration against these challenges?
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
The same advances in technology that are driving these uncertainties are providing huge opportunities. In his session The Future of Work, Oliver Wenz the Director of UX for Cisco stated “the future of work does not exclude anyone”. Global-scale internet access, cloud technology, open source technology and ever-increasing accessibility has enabled the democratisation of knowledge and assets. Access to education and the opportunity to upskill yourself is far less limited to certain socio-economic groups. The collapse of the concept of “a job for life”, coupled with the rise in cloud technology-enabled remote working and collaboration has seen a lot of erosion on the typical 9-5, office-based format of work already and this is only set to continue. This trend opens up huge opportunities for time-poor parents, for people with mobility issues, for people restricted by visa issues.
In the face of so many fundamental unknowns, tangible and actionable advice on what to do to futureproof ourselves was, understandably, hard to come by. Key advice was grouped around two key themes – adaptability and collaboration. At least 70% of the jobs that children aged 5 will take up in the future do not exist today. Never has the old adage ‘uncertainty is the only certainty’ been truer. Our ability to overcome these shifts will be defined by our adaptability to change and our ability to collaborate internationally to harness these opportunities rather than succumb to their threat.
May the odds be ever in your favour.