Futures Salon: “The Workforce of the Future”

We return to our evening time slot to discuss the future of the workforce as outlined in a recent review by PwC’s global People and Organization:

This review sets out to help envision the workforce in 2030, where the opposite forces of collectivist and individualism, as well as the contract between business fragmentation define four different potential worlds: The Red World, where innovation rules, The Blue World, where corporate is king, The Green World, where companies care, and The Yellow World, where humans come first. This review further details the potential role of leaders in these different Worlds and how the infrastructure of the workplace would be structures in each one. We have asked the group today to envision these worlds and which ones seem to be the most likely, both on a local and global scale.

As the current pandemic situation unfolds, we are starting to reveal that, through the power of this virtual connection, workforce talent exists in nodes. These nodes open possibilities for project specialists, where teams can be assembled to handle the details for particular projects and then dissolve for new efforts. Now that digital meetings are becoming the standard, this flexibility shows potential for growth in whatever World we are approaching. Caution, however, should be placed on how the advancement of technology matches with these World ideas and whether or not there will be backlash against the implementation of AI and technology in the workplace.

Online retail appears to be a measurement of how the pandemic has accelerated the reliance on technology. Massive system usage increases, stresses on the supply chain, and a general shift in products purchased pushes the need for strengthening these systems, often solved by these companies through automation. Perhaps these changes were bound to happen, but the pressure placed through this rapid technological adaptation/advancement shows that we have a new reliance on it.

We consider whether this review is overly optimistic of this technological incorporation into society and the workforce, where automation is always a good thing. It is to be noted that automation would never replace a particular job, but that the person implementing that automation would be shifting where that job would be. A recommendation is also placed to view the Amazon series, Jack Ryan, as it provides and interesting example on the incorporation into society.

Knowledge Economies and Knowledge Work was additionally recommended to continue this conversation on how to act as leaders and support the changes in the workplace: “This practical book serves as a guide for corporate leaders and managers, knowledge managers, workforce professionals, policy makers, labor economists, human capital researchers, and educators. It helps diverse audiences understand the implications of this transformation and helps them navigate this new economy.”

Future leaders will have to prepare for a world of human computing resources. A cognitive divide may begin to develop between those who frequently interact and are reliant on technology and those who are more casual users. Cyber attacks, then, become part of an underground economy in individual information, company stability, and corporate conflict.

Would a future exist in which large conferences are having “live” questions and answer sessions, regardless of time zone and location? Or are these more static interactions destined to shrink and become more flexible and versatile? There is a serious opportunity in which rotations of team leadership, virtual team setup, and specialists become the hyper adaptable solutions to these ever-changing problems.

Will the entire workforce even be able to interact with these changing times? Or will this be part of that cognitive divide? How do we teach students, train specialists, and adapt to a cooperative society with machines? Does this solely fall onto the education system? Or will some be permanently left behind, further worsening the divide between those at the top and those at the bottom? The current environment has accelerated the learning environment to this new highly flexible learning environment and maybe this is the necessary leap to advance into any of these World systems. We are moving through a period of inevitable change, thrown rapidly on the system, but new innovative solutions today will have massive effects for generations to come.

We thank the entire group for their amazing discussion on the topic and look forward to talking again next month.

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NEXT: Seeing the Unforeseen Effects of Technology

Why are some future effects of technology “unforeseen,” and is there anything that can be done to prevent this? A recent white paper from the consulting firm McKinsey explored the future of the “Bio Revolution.” Their analysis anticipated that the leading sectors in biotech over the next decade would include biomolecules, meaning the engineering of […]

-David Staley

August 17, 2020

Read the full article on the Columbus Underground site.

Salon notice: “The Workforce of the Future”

The next Columbus Futurists monthly forum will be Tuesday, September 8 at 6:30 pm over Zoom.  Our topic for the evening’s discussion will be “The Workforce of the Future,” and will be based on the linked report from PWC.  The report details four scenarios for the future of work in 2030.  Part of what we will discuss that evening is which of the scenarios we find the most likely and why we hold this belief.  

Salon notice: “Does Globalization have a Future?”

The next Columbus Futurists monthly forum will be on Tuesday August 4 at 6:30PM over Zoom (please note the time change.  It has been suggested to me that an evening time slot might work better for many of you than a noon slot, in the middle of the work day).  Our theme for the next forum will be “Does Globalization have a Future?”

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, there were rumblings that the global economic order first established thirty years ago at the end of the Cold War was unraveling. Global competition between the US and China indicated that separate economic spheres of influence were emerging; concerns about the hold China seemed to have over supply chains have led some to wonder whether or not globalization has a future. COVID-19 has laid bare the consequences of global linkages and connections. If globalization is no more, then what comes after? With what implications?

RSVP to columbus.futurists@gmail.com

NEXT: Scioto, Ohio – A Story

What follows is not a prediction. It is a plausible scenario written in the form of a “history from the future.” The scenario is written as if the year were 2030… On July 1, 2026, City Council announced a change to the city charter, renaming the city of Columbus as “Scioto.” While there had been earlier […]

-David Staley

July 13, 2020

Read the full article on the Columbus Underground site.

NEXT: Voice

Many of us have had to learn how to change the way we speak when in the presence of an Alexa device. In order to make certain it (she?) understands me, I find I must change the way I speak when addressing Alexa, especially the manner in which I frame a question. Voice-interfaces with computers and artificial […]

-David Staley

June 15, 2020

Read the full article on the Columbus Underground site.

Futures Salon: “A Polymath University”

We start our discussion on university structure, flexibility, and capability here on July 7th with opening words from Dr. David Staley. If you would like to hear additional background for the following meeting notes, please check out his recent video through the Office of Research at The Ohio State University: The Future of the Research University: Creating the Infrastructure of Polymathy.

David shares with the group the book “The Ghost of the Executed Engineer” which reflects, in 1939, on the collapse of the Soviet Union and how the training and education of engineers. The author recounts the story of interacting with a ball-bearing engineer, where specialization developed to that specific focus. This sort of hyper-specialization still appears to be present in the modern university, where degrees are designed to bury into a pinpoint outcome or career goal.

Students in the 19th century at locations such as The Ohio State Unviersity all took the same courses, which then evolved into an early version of electives, which then again refined into the degrees and specialities developed in this elective system. General education programs stand as the current interpretation of that initial course layout of the 19th century. Harvard course catalog from the middle 1800s reflect this with the entire cohort taking Latin and Greek alongside a more modern language.

“The Polymath”, the book referenced in David’s video, helps to define the polymath away from those who are hyper-specialized. The polymath, argued there, is the norm, not the focused discipline outcome that modern education revolves around now. The polymath then is needed more than ever to solve the problems of a fast-moving, high-process, and ever-adapting world.

“The Neo-Generalist” provides another book reference to define the “portfolio person”, who has that large repertoire of abilities. This must fundamentally be different, in the university setting, than the liberal education curriculum’s often taught. These may attempt to provide a broad background of courses, but the courses themselves are built to progress the discipline. Degrees, tenure, and promotions are all rewarded on your disciplinary work, where it is exceptionally difficult for a polymath who works in and between disciplines to be recognized and fulfilled within the epistemological structure of the modern university.

The requirements of the polymath must be to work in, around, and between disciplines. The mindset, not the specialized skill-set, must be encouraged. How do we end up building a university that can promote the success of these students?

What are we actually education students for? Where are they going to go? What are they going to do? If an expert learns more and more about less and less, such that they end up knowing everything about nothing, what was the point?

Is it the role of universities to train and nurture polymaths? Or does this come earlier? Later? When is individual aptitude ready for broad and expansive thinking? General education currently seems to focus on acquiring large amounts of information, not translatable thoughts and strategies to solve problems through and between specialized disciplines. Specialized disciplines will always be necessary, but more focus must be placed on a polymath approach.

Is this the right time for this discussion, though? Social pressures and the ongoing pandemic have universities focused on the fall, keeping the lights on, teaching the courses already on the books. We also need to make sure that the push for the polymath does not lead to the dilettante. It must be critical to build the skillets for the sake of answering questions and solving problems and not for the superficial dilution of qualified skills.

Has anyone asked curriculum committees to develop majors and minors in polymathing? What does one do with this degree? Is the purpose of higher education to get a job? Then how would students be able to enter into diverse avocations without specialized skills?

With the technology and market advancement pushing away from these specialized majors, rapidly shifting economic climates will continue to require creative, problem-solving, and flexible individuals.

Thank you all for participating in this excellent conversation and we look forward to speaking again next month!

Salon: “A Polymath University”

The next Columbus Futurists monthly forum will be Tuesday, July 7 at 12:00 noon via Zoom. The topic will be “A Polymath University.”

I have been exploring the idea of nurturing an undergraduate “major” in polymathy, or as a generalist.  Here’s an article that gives some sense of what I mean:  https://www.cnbc.com/2020/06/15/harvard-yale-researcher-future-success-is-not-a-specific-skill-its-a-type-of-thinking.html What if we gave students the opportunity not to specialize in a discipline but to develop their own “rigorous generalist” program?  Like Mansharamani says, students would “read the whole paper.”   How would a degree as a “rigorous generalist” be received in the workforce?  I would like to draw upon your ideas and judgement for thinking through how such a program might be implemented. 

Please contact columbus.futurists@gmail.com for RSVP and Zoom information.

Futures Salon: “Conversations with Alexa”

We meet for our second digital lunch-hour format here on June 9th to discuss the future and implications of a voice command driven world. Dr. David Staley welcomes the group and begins moderating our discussion.

We open with the question: “Will Alexa or similar vocal processing and response technology have the same impact as the smart phone?”

Perhaps, but they have a different role in integration. While their functionality is limited, they do not currently act as stakeholders in our social lives. While smart phones became ubiquitous quickly, adaptation will be necessary to adjust to this “economy of automation.” This technology might be more one of an innovation rather than one of impact. It acts as another tool to access the library, but the smart phone is the library itself.

Will there be enough time for this voice assistant to become overshadowed by technology that bypasses this verbal requirement? Are tools which either through contact or through thought going to innovate quicker?

Thinking about how this tool is implemented, if you were to ask “who won the game last night?” what is the response? If we were to use a search engine, a list appears, where we can then sort the data. Voice recognition software must then determine which particular piece of information you were looking for. Then what happens to this “conversational web” strategy? What if a certain sports website was where your game news was coming from? Will they then be attempting to organize and highlight their knowledge to be what is reported back from these vocal commands?

Constructing knowledge ontologies to rival web browsers may be too daunting a task and less matched to the market which these voice recognition tools are developing towards. Instead of typing out a large transcript, these tools leverage enhanced vocal detection to start to become another, if not the primary way in which we interact with computers. Will the rate at which we speak become dominant to write novels? Texts? Research documents?

Another interesting thought is what do we actually consider to be dictation? Are tools which send voice recording more efficient then having to type or translate speech? Our culture is currently must more visual than the writers of antiquity who would use scribes to bring the words to page.

As AI becomes more sophisticated, will our quick “do this” or “answer me this” statements evolve into actual conversations? Will we be able to have deeper thinking questions with these tools? Will AI be able to future? Bounce ideas? Puzzle through questions? Become a member of the team?

Virtual assistants have recently shown the ability to set hair appointments, anticipate issues, create work around. Right now we see these tools and slicing and dicing information, allowing certain exceptions, but not being able to think independently and generate new knowledge.

To think about education, we teach students to develop libraries of knowledge, report that information, all within a rigorous testing system. Is this not what Alexa is doing? We often think intellectual power is in the ability to answer questions. But truly, this emphasis should be able to ask questions and critically think. How do you evaluate the source of the answers? What if these voice recognition tools preference a certain source of information? What are the implications of this preference and will we be able to still question the source of these answers?

Voice is an important identifier, as well. Companies are responding to the current utilization of facial recognition. Speech-to-text software becomes better and better at understanding language, and with that, improvements of the ability to detect and identify individuals. Will voice become a new method for bio-security and identification? Speaking in public may then become data which may play a role in a surveillance state, where voice can become uniquely linked to your person and your data.

What is the actual value that this tool brings? Is the voice recognition tool responsibility to solve problems only when your hands are occupied? “Verbalization is cacophony.” Are we preparing for an “eTelepathy” device where this is the more crude integration system. Will we be able to cross the vocal uncanny valley?

A few pieces of reading were shared if you are interesting reading or watching more about these topics:

Google Duplex: A.I. Assistant Calls Local Businesses To Make Appointments

Tracking people by their ‘gait signature’

How AI could become an extension of your mind

We appreciate everyone who participated and look forward to futuring with you next month!

Salon: “Conversations with Alexa”

The next Columbus Futurists monthly forum will be Tuesday, June 9 from 12:00-1:00 PM over Zoom.  The topic for this month is “Conversations with Alexa.”

Voice recognition interfaces like Alexa and Siri will be the chief interface with the digital.  What are the implications of this shift away form keyboards and written text, when voice and speech become the dominant modes of communication?   It is possible that smart speakers, powered by artificial intelligence, will one day allow us to ask more sophisticated questions than we do now? In such a scenario,  Alexa would develop a broader and more complex range of responses. Will we start to have real conversations? If conversation is defined as dialogue between two or more people where news and ideas are exchanged, might we start to have proper conversations with Alexa?

Please contact columbus.futurists@gmail.com for RSVP and Zoom information.