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Working in the age of technological socialism [Opinion]

silicon valley francesco crippa flickr AI

The world’s facing many grand challenges, with mega-trends emerging that have the potential to disrupt life as we know it. The granddaddy of all challenges facing mankind has to be the way technology is and will continue to transform our lives.

While many tech advancements will fundamentally improve our lives, certain underlying technologies are going to turn contemporary life on its head. It’s a scenario predicted by author, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, who believes that artificial intelligence (AI) will become so advanced that technology will surpass mankind’s collective intelligence and our ability to comprehend or, potentially, even control it.

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We will, quite literally, experience the rise of the machines. In fact, we already are.

Kurzweil, now the director of engineering at Google, estimates that at our current rate of progress, machines will reach human levels of intelligence by 2029, accelerating our journey toward the Singularity.

The prospect and implications of this have many people spooked. Some still question whether these predictions will ever come to fruition, while others are fearful of what this means for mankind. But more than the far-fetched threat of a robot uprising, the major issue we need to grapple with is the impact that AI will have on jobs and our ability to earn a living.

Technologies underpinned by quantum computing and AI, such as machine learning, nanotechnology, robotics, and the Internet of Things, are already transforming almost every sphere of life, from energy, transportation and communication, to agriculture, education, modern medicine and commerce.

We will, quite literally, experience the rise of the machines

Quantum computing utilises the principles inherent in nature to process information, except it’s literally billions of times faster and millions of times smaller and less resource intensive. AI, on the other hand, will replace all our left brain activities, as it becomes leaner, faster and more efficient than our analytic minds.

AI’s impact on an evolutionary scale will be comparable to effect electricity had on society. AI will add intelligence to everything, like electricity brought power to our world and sparked the second industrial revolution. Through AI, everything around us will become intelligent and think for us, to the point where ambient intelligence will pervade our lives, ushering us into the fourth industrial revolution.

While quantum computing will exponentially increase processing power, unlocking untold computing potential, and AI will improve our lives by making the human-technology interface seamless and fluid, the white robotic elephant in the room for most people is how their jobs will be impacted.

Let’s just state this upfront and get it out of the way: Billions of jobs will be lost, but before you completely freak out, know that this will only be temporary.

Consider the first industrial revolution. At the turn of the 19th century steam-powered machines replaced human labour in industry. It’s reported that 80% of the population were farming at the time and when the revolution began, the farmers revolted. They demolished tractors and factories in protest against job losses. But, you know what? We adapted and evolved.

Today, a mere 2% of the global population farms. The majority of us have learnt new skills that enable us to apply ourselves in different ways.

I’d also like to propose that a loss of jobs isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Our concept of work is an archaic social construct — a relic of the first industrial revolution that’s been ingrained in us through generations. This idea of clocking in and out from nine to five is ridiculous in the modern context.

Ultimately, jobs have become a crappy substitute for purpose. We’re stuck in the rat race and few of us ever get the privilege to dig deeper to find out what it means to be human by following our curiosity. It’s little wonder then that the anti-depressant pharmaceutical market has become a multi-billion dollar industry. There’s no doubt that the concepts of careers, jobs, income, self-worth, and purpose are in desperate need of a paradigm shift.

The next industrial revolution can usher in a period of technological utopianism

Thankfully, more than just pose problems, our current predicament offers solutions to this issue, but only if we tackle it with the correct approach. By thinking strategically and equipping ourselves with the mindset and framework needed to adapt, the next industrial revolution can usher in a period of technological utopianism — one where technology helps to fulfill mankind’s new ideals.

By embracing technology-mediated change, rather than resisting or ignoring it, society can move towards an era of technological socialism or conscious capitalism, where many aspects of our lives become freely available and where everything operates for the benefit and well-being of all mankind.

It’s the utopian vision that everyone at the Singularity University are working towards. I recently spent a week there, immersed in the institution’s exponential thinking around how the world should adapt its mindset to help humanity thrive.

And as the future continues to unfold as predicted, we’ll be faced with one of two choices: Either we fall victim to this rapid change, or we become the architects of it. To do so we need to become flexible and agile in our approach to change management, embracing this fast-paced evolution, instead of resisting it.

Offering organisations a framework to contextualise and manage the disruption associated with exponential technology-fuelled growth, Peter Diamandis, co-founder and executive chairman of Singularity University, offers a guide to navigating the digital economy.

Diamandis states that the exponential growth cycle of disruptive digital technologies follows six key steps, which he terms the 6Ds. Every organisation that plans to innovate and disrupt in the new digital economy should embrace this roadmap for rapid growth and development through technology-led innovation.

According to Diamandis, when an industry becomes Digitised, it starts behaving like information technology, experiencing the same degree of exponential growth witnessed in computing.

However, the initial stages of digitisation can be Deceptive, as growth is initially slow and few believe that this new technology will materially impact the sector. That growth rate accelerates, though, and this new exponential technology Disrupts the industry by creating entirely new markets. This leads to Demonetisation as money leaves the industry because technology makes everything cheaper, often to the point of being free.

What follows is Dematerialisation, where physical products are removed from the industry, and, finally, Democratisation happens because everyone gains access to a truly digitised product or service.

It’s a pattern already emerging in a number of industries, like transport and communication. And all future trends that will impact business already fall somewhere within this framework.

Take Google Glass as a prime example. It’s currently in the deceptive stage. Many have written off the concept, but it’s going to make a massive resurgence, with the potential to disrupt the trillion dollar screen industry. The same happened with digital cameras, which ultimately led to the death of Kodak.

To ensure your organisation doesn’t follow Kodak into at annuls of business history, and the footnotes of business school literature about what not to do, then use the 6Ds to leverage the potential of exponential technology, rather than fall victim to its awesome power.

Feature image: Francesco Crippa via Flickr (CC 2.0 BY, resized)

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