By Michele Wucker
McCarthy installed a network of remote-controlled smart devices, from cameras and microphones to light switches and appliances, and invited volunteers to stay in her home. Then she tried to anticipate and respond to their needs – like making a bowl of popcorn when she guessed they were hungry—instead of just responding to commands like Alexa does.
Get-Lauren touches on common anxieties, starting with the questions of what humans can offer that machines cannot, and what control each of us has over our future and even who we are.
“By allowing these devices in, we outsource the formation of our identity to a virtual assistant whose values are programmed by a small, homogenous group of developers,” McCarthy wrote.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution has ushered in new technologies that are changing where and how many of us work, what we buy and how we buy it, what we learn and what we delegate to our devices, and how we connect with each other.
It’s easy for even tech-savvy individuals to feel that we are helpless in face of these tectonic shifts. What can a single person do? What power does anyone have amid massive social and economic changes? What is within our control and how do we adapt to what is out of our hands?
Simply asking those questions is a good start toward managing technology instead of letting it control us. Seeking to understand the changes underway helps us to feel that we are doing something instead of facing complete uncertainty. Assessing how we use technology in the workplace, home, and community helps identify where we are doing well and where we need to do more. That, in turn, gives us the material to create a roadmap for adapting.
Embrace the future of work
All those stories of the “robots coming for your jobs” reflect public anxiety over how automation and artificial intelligence will affect the workplace.
On the good side, new platforms have made it easier for independent workers to connect with clients, diversify their income sources, and keep more of the income they generate instead of sharing it with a corporation with overhead and shareholders to pay.
At the same time, studies from the Oxford Martin School, McKinsey & Company, and others suggest that technology will affect most of the labor force. More than half of of US workers are not confident that the kind of work they do will exist in 20 years, according to a recent survey. Considerably more freelancers – 49 percent versus 18 percent of employees — think AI has already affected their work.
McKinsey concludes that the tasks that are least susceptible to automation involve managing others, decision-making, planning, and creative tasks. Somewhat more vulnerable are stakeholder interactions and unpredictable physical work. Data collection and processing are highly susceptible to automation. Robots are most likely to take over predictable, repetitive tasks.
Considering these changes, take stock of your own skills. Which ones distinguish you and which ones need improving? Focus on the activities at which humans excel where machines cannot – creativity, teamwork, innovation, judgment, empathy – and fields that are least likely to be destroyed by new technologies.
How would your colleagues, friends, and family assess your people skills? Ask them and improve your weak spots. Take a course, find a coach or accountability group, and check in with the people around you to see if they notice changes.
If your job is among the most vulnerable, how can you add skills that fall in a safer category? Where can new technologies help you learn new skills and apply them for much less than it would have cost in the past? What skills are you helping the children around you to nurture?
Review your tech relationships
Along with your work-related assessments, do a personal tech audit. Familiarize yourself with technologies that can help you outside of the office. Ask what is most useful for you, and what is just hype designed to sell you gadgets. Make tech work for you, not the other way around.
What dull tasks can you delegate to technological tools? What things need the human touch? I hate scheduling, so love the idea of an AI personal assistant. But an AI scheduler can’t handle jamming too many appointments into a single day on a trip to a big, congested city, or manage conversations with VIPs.
What technologies do you use already? Robot vacuum cleaners; programmable alarms and coffee makers; automated online tools; wearable technology; smart thermostats; parking assist? Health technologies from telemedicine to record management systems to apps that remind you to take your pills, help you meditate, or monitor your heart rate? Do you rely on social media and networks for searching for jobs; or platforms for sharing rides, homes, or cars?
Now think about how you use each technology and how much it benefits you. Do you change your behavior based on the readings from your wrist tracker, or do you ignore it? Is the amount of time you spend on social media or playing games healthy or a giant time suck? Does it leave you feeling better about yourself? Have you made informed choices about privacy and adjusted your settings appropriately?
Use good tech hygiene. Take vacations from your devices instead of letting your smartphone be an electronic tether. Set boundaries for interactions; don’t tolerate online bullies or trolls. Adjust your privacy settings. Fight the negative physical effects of technology, like hunching over your phone or trouble sleeping because you looked at your device too close to bed time.
Create a roadmap
Neither the utopian or dystopian visions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is inevitable; the future depends on how each one of us responds.
Regular check-ins at home and work will help you to map a way forward that gives you more control and reduces anxiety.
Used right, technology can empower people by giving access to information and markets, and by increasing transparency and connectivity; creating new business platforms and models; and giving us more control over our environment and health.
Making sure that happens is one thing we cannot automate.
Michele Wucker is the author of THE GRAY RHINO and Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Gray Rhino & Company.
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