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Jobs of the future will be what robots cannot do

The title of this post actually comes from a video I viewed on Big Think way back in 2016. It was a short video by renowned American physicist, Michio Kaku. I’ve just searched the site extensively to try and find it again but couldn’t. Good thing I downloaded a copy at the time and uploaded it to YouTube. I wanted to capture it as I recall it was not shareable. I have based a lot of my thinking on its prognostications since then. I first referenced it here: After robots and AI – intellectual capitalism where creativity and imagination thrive.

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In an age of machines human organisations matter – an ode to joy

There is an explosion of automation, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning with many fearing job losses. In the attention economy we have proliferation of social media, questionable content, digital addiction, etc. Freedom of expression knows no bounds yet sensitivities are tested like never before. There are many benefits to adopting these tools and approaches and there are those that countervail – some stand out, either as out of touch dinosaurs or innovators. In all this there are many reasons to be joyful.

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Technology alone is not enough

As we approach a fourth transformation (according to Robert Scoble and Shel Israel it’s How Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence Will Change Everything), we face some challenges and questions.

  • Will machines master humans, especially in the work place?
  • How will we coexist with machines that begin to outstrip our intelligence capabilities?
  • What are humans uniquely positioned to do in a new world dominated by robots and super intelligence?

I cannot see into the future so its pointless prognosticating. Others far more knowledgable have done and at least concluded that No, the Experts Don’t Think Superintelligent AI is a Threat to Humanity.

Nevertheless it’s safe to say that software is already eating the world and robots and AI are going to play a massive role.

I am writing my next trend report on a related subject (post on that here) but am deeply embedded in the here and now. I work with some of the worlds largest companies and have been for many years trying to help them make sense of and drive value from their technology investments.

I am constantly thinking about technology in the here and now in making mine and my customer’s work world better? One thing I come across time and again is the misalignment of focus and priorities.

The technology and increasingly the data around its use is held in thrall. I’m not innocent of the many mistakes made. Here are some examples below of the kinds of ways in which I think we go wrong:

  1. The features and functions are exhorted over the outcomes they are intended to support or problems they are intended to solve. Great post on that here: 12 signs you’re working in a feature factory.
  2. Growth in usage data is also driven without giving thought to the outcomes or value being attained
  3. Technology is prioritised without giving thought to the humans and the behaviours around it – mindset, culture, etc.

I believe usable and useful technology that solves real problems is critical for driving adoption and deriving business value, especially in the more complex world of enterpise technology. But I believe you can get further when you address the mindset behind technology use and I am far from alone in this view. Ultimately tackling both in healthy doses is best.

adoption - technology vs mindset


A call to arms!

In addressing human factors, when it is done at all, are still often wrong. Organisations typically address it from a change management perspective. It’s become an industry in its own right.

Call me a cynic but most change management efforts I’ve been involved in or observed have often seemed shrewdly calculated to meet the ends of a chosen few. Not the user or a better way of working.

Often it’s simple humanity that is missing.

In the enterprise technology business we sometimes miss what I think Steve Jobs alluded to when he said “technology alone is not enough”.

To quote him in full he said:

“It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough—it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

As robots and super intelligence increasingly play a greater role I want to avoid becoming one (a robot :).

I want to celebrate my humanity and the difference I can bring. This goes beyond what Steve Jobs was referring to. I’m thinking of a real caring and nurturing that is authentic and deeply rooted in our collective wellbeing.

I see our innate creativity as an essential human expression of being, hence the subject of my new trend report.

Creativity is what drives us. It’s essential to all progress. Sometimes at the expense of what we leave behind (read disruption). We are always on the march to creating new possibilities. It’s the way we grow.

I want to embrace new technology because I’m a tech geek and I trust my techno lust but I still want my heart to sing.

There is thrill to be found in technology that works and enhances my productivity and the way I live my life. This is momentary though. It does not penetrate the deepest recesses of my being.

It is in the way that I am empowered as a fully alive human being, constantly evolving, that makes my heart sing.

Most of all it is when I create something of value and it is appreciated, in even a small way, that my spirits rise. Progress and all of humanity is founded on the principle of creation. Of ideas and new possibilities and setting out on adventures to achieve them.

Organisations can play a big part in nurturing this. Here leaders have the greatest responsibility. They can choose to nurture our humanity and provide the freedom for our greatest creative expression and output. Failing that organisations and people will wither I believe and die soulless or go off and find it elsewhere.

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The post robotic AI age and the role of creativity and innovation

You’ve all heard the news. Jobs will come under fire if not already so. Machines, robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI), are going to take over. The Matrix, Terminator, could all those movie scenarios have had it right?

What happens if it’s all true but the ending is not a tragic one. Can we find a happy coexistence with machines? In an alternative scenario, machines would be our servants and tackle the hard tasks they are brilliant at. Retaining, processing and repeating rule-based information. Complex calculations in milliseconds. Massive infrastructure and mechanical jobs that require strength, are dangerous and may even need to happen on other planets and atmospheres.

And whither humans? With land, capital, and labour safely being managed on our behalf, might humans be able to realise their full potential? Creative powerhouses constantly renewing and improving, stimulated by human interaction and fired by endless imagination. With time to put that strength to work.

All questions I have pondered leading to this post.

It’s important to start somewhere. A diagram is one of my favourite ways to synthesise thinking. So I drew some lines.


An explanation of the diagram

I hope it’s straightforward enough. I struggled with this for a while and am still not sure I have the right angles. I’m not referring to the arrows :)

I grappled with how to characterise the trajectories of the three arrows. I mean what did they constitute. I concluded that they were learning priorities. Whether by humans or machines, they were directions of learning intent.

By machines I mean AI for the most part. In the case of super AI even more so. By definition it is self learning and its intent is to become super intelligent.

Robots are something that are going to take over physical work. They have mechanical capability more than intelligence. Their intelligence will come from computers that drive AI.

Together you could see them as a whole – machines.

If all projections on AI are correct, then its trajectory is due for a massive jump soon. Capacity to learn as well as intelligence will rise exponentially.

Human learning is different. Learning directions and priorities are often imposed. By schools that teach who are often lead by organisations that hire based on skills taught.

I have distinguished between STEM based learning directions and creativity based.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (as an educational category). This has dominated learning priorities for at least the last fifty years. As mentioned, institutions of all kinds impose it.

Creativity, if seen beyond the narrow confines of education in the arts, has lagged. That in my view, should change and I’m not the only one. I’m suggesting we will need to see a massive increase in learning emphasis, both at school and at work.

Creativity is as important as literacy. Sir Ken Robinson

I assume there is going to be a need for humans to take care of the machines. Even if humans will not remain on a par, they will have to maintain their STEM focus. They will need it to maintain the machines – at least in the near term. So the STEM based learning trajectory continues roughly on par with past trends.

As for my vertical axis, here too I grappled. I was thinking what is the point of all this activity. For the moment I have couched it in the familiar. Innovation and productivity are after all the holy grail that many organisations aspire to achieve.

So that will do for now on my current standpoint. My hypothesis in essence is as follows:

Machines are self learning and will become super intelligent. There will soon be an exponential rise in their capability. They will outstrip our current STEM based capabilities. We will no longer need the capabilities as much since we can rely on machines. Mastering our creative capabilities is the next frontier. We will use them to put ourselves and machines to work and solve the biggest challenges humanity face. We need to start preparing now.

Below I describe some of the main influences on my thinking so far.

Main influences on my thinking so far

Tim Urban: The Road to Superintelligence

I attended a Tim Urban talk at Transition, an event my company hosted last year. We didn’t record and share the full presentation. Luckily this Google talk he gave was and he spoke about the same topic.

He makes compelling arguments simple, as he is know for doing. A couple of things stood out for me. That we are at the cusp of exponential growth in AI’s capability for self learning. And the distinctions between standard and super intelligence blew me away.

The latter especially lead me to believe we are not thinking big enough about AI. In essence he showed me the limits of my imagination.

He didn’t project futuristic outcomes, he only shed a light on the possibilities. Extrapolate from only recent progress and a super intelligent future is hard to deny.

Don’t want a robot to steal your job? Be creative

The title is not mine – here is the article: Don’t want a robot to steal your job? Be creative. The title alone is what nailed it for me. Then on reading it several points jumped out. The first was this one:

Cheap computing power and rapidly advancing AI mean that machines already outperform us on tasks that involve retaining, processing, and repeating rule-based information.

Then their point about STEM learning which I incorporated into my diagram and thesis.

creativity-vs-robots-nestaThere was also the link to the NESTA report (pdf). This provided rich, research based evidence. The results confirm that “creative occupations are more future proof to computerisation”.

They also define a far broader concept of creativity than common perception holds. That it’s more than the arts. It encompasses “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something”.

The part in italics is what stood out for me .

That lead me to Richard Florida’s paper: The Creative Class and Economic Development (pdf).

Modern Organisations Hierarchy of Needs

Independent of all this, I wrote a post some time ago that seemed to resonate with many from all the likes and shares it received (in the thousands).

Based on Maslow’s model I positioned the Modern Organisation’s Hierarchy of Needs. Creativity and innovation were at the pinnacle of organisational actualisation.

What I left out was the AI and robots element. I’m convinced I should include it. I propose to remodel the hierarchy and include these considerations. I’ll make this a core part of my trend report. I’ll use it to advocate how organisations should change to refocus their efforts.

modern organisation hierarchy of needs

Any feedback at all on my initial thinking would be great. Please add a comment.