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Afraid a digital world means less human intelligence? Don’t be

Last year’s highly publicised Artificial Intelligence (AI) debate, between tech giants Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and more recently, Bill Gates brought to the fore some questions at the back of everyone’s minds: how sustainable is humanity with AI ever encroaching? Is technology taking over? Is there cause for alarm?

The impact of technology is being felt in every aspect of our lives, almost unbeknownst to us. Last year’s Black Friday highlighted how dependent we have become on technology to get what we want, as systems and servers dropped like flies under the pressure of user demand. In fact, online shopping has become so prevalent that seemingly indestructible retail giants have fallen prey to its takeover. The Internet has become our on-demand source for everything, and connectivity to the Web is now seen as a basic human right, akin to water or electricity.

This pervasive reliance on technology lends a certain credence to fears that humanity is slowly being engulfed by technological innovation. Even cyber security, our defence against the rising tide of cybercrime, is consistently viewed with wariness, thanks to its association with Big Brother like controls and connected everything.

Fear, however apparently substantiated, is debilitating. Fear stems innovation and enables nothing. To avoid returning to the “dark ages” before the Internet; in order to drive rather than curb the transformation evolution we are experiencing; we need to figure out how to lean into this fear to create opportunities that enable us to surmount it.

Truthfully, this is not the first time we have faced radical technological changes that impact humanity with such pervasive force. This pace, depth and breadth of current changes, however, is unique. Innovation is happening at such a rate, the landscape constantly changes and we, as a people, have become more adaptable than ever before.

Proponents of the digital age, including Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, and Cognitive Learning, are all going to be such integrated parts of life that they will no longer be terms we speak of, but simply how we live. Business models will be forced to change, propelling organisations into the future through automation and IoT. This of course, catches on the fear around the impact on jobs.

The question of the impact on jobs is one which is raised time and again, particularly in the face of AI and robotics. These technologies, while replacing many of the more onerous and automatable functions, also serve to open up a world of new career possibilities. However, replacing people with machines is not where the growth is.

The answer becomes how to use technology to augment human capability, not replace it. To leverage innovation to enhance tasks where intuition or human experience are hindering the goals of zero defect quality and optimal efficiency. To supplement those daily responsibilities carried out by people that can better serve in areas where human intervention and activity is still critical. To focus on core business.

Many organisations are already embarking on upskilling their workforce, and retooling them to address functions that require more neural thinking and human interaction. In this way, people are uplifted and offered new opportunities to expand their capability. Organisations then engender an environment which is favourable towards - and not resistant to - innovation.

leads us to the question of intelligent technology creating a lazy and un-intelligent society. I believe the opposite is true. As technologies such as IoT, AI and analytics pave the way to a better way of life for us by removing our focus on those tasks which can easily be automated, it also promotes a society which centres on learning, innovation and developing elevated skills. When we no longer rely on people to carry out menial tasks, we can push them to move beyond the mundane - to transcend to a more effective, more efficient, more intelligent species.

We can fear. We can block change and stem the tide of innovation. Or we can embrace it, be proactive, and evolve.

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Will Africa be digitally relevant in the next 10 years?

By 2025, jobs which were common place in 2015 will no longer exist. Students graduating in 2016 will have obsolete qualifications for which there will no longer be a profession by 2025.

  • Front-line military personnel will be replaced with robots, Private bankers and wealth managers will be replaced with algorithms Telemarketers, data entry capturers, tax preparers, lawyers, accountants, actuaries, statisticians and consulting engineers will be replaced with Artificial Intelligence (AI).

New business models, like those of Uber and Alibaba, are already industry-shaping disruptors, and each day, new Digital innovators are emerging to cause disintermediation and disruption across every industry imaginable. 

Traditional enterprises, whilst presently successful by today’s standards, are scrambling to make sense of Business Digitisation in order to stay relevant in the Digital future. Many are attempting to create new Digital business models which will eventually cannibalise their traditional business, rather than capitulating to new disruptive Digital start-ups. Companies are also digitising their products and services, along with operational processes and customer channels. Over 70% of top fortune 500 companies have plans to offer their products as a Digital service by 2020.  Presently, the 10 most valuable start-ups globally are estimated to have a value of US$172,7bn - all embracing Digital platform based business models. Around 90% of the business models in 2020 will be driven by the cloud.

Globally, the number of connected devices will nearly quadruple by 2025, significantly altering the skills employers hold most valuable. Increasing connectivity will change how employees choose to work (for example: remotely, part-time, independently, or dispersed), and provide employers with a spectrum of hiring options.

Millennials, most of whom are Digital Natives, will comprise an estimated 48.3% of the global labour force in 2025, while those aged 60 and older will comprise 9.9% (compared with 7.9% in 2015).

The line between what has traditionally been business and IT is becoming more and more blurred. Largely due to the early adoption and impact of Digital marketing, The Chief Marketing Officer or CMO, now controls a bigger “IT” budget and influence than the CIO. This is only set to increase and expand across the organisation, as Digital Natives become future business leaders.

What new skills and expertise will be required to lead and manage the Digital enterprise of the future?

As robots, AI and Digital algorithms continue to replace many jobs and professions; new and emerging professions by 2025 will focus more on human interaction, augmented through Digital mechanisms. Jobs requiring uniquely human characteristics, such as cultural deftness, caretaking, or empathy, and creative thinking, are those least threatened by automation.

The ability to work anywhere, anytime is fuelling the Digital nomad trend, which is highly appealing to millennials, but will also blur political and economic boundaries, and test national labour codes.

Artificial Intelligence, its subfields, and automation will create some specific reflecting trends associated with new and emerging technology advances. Career gains from AI and automation include:

  • Artificial Intelligence technology and automation salesperson
  • Specialist programmers
  • Cybersecurity experts
  • Engineering psychologists
  • Robot and automation technology manufacturer, distributor, servicer, and refurbisher
  • Technology-specific trainer
  • Neuro-implant technicians
  • Virtual health care specialist
  • Virtual reality experience designer

Conclusion:

Digital transformation cannot be ignored without becoming irrelevant, and an adaptive Digital strategy is imperative. 

The Digital workforce will be largely millennial, and significantly different from today in terms of culture, leadership style and skills. Artificial Intelligence, robots and Digital algorithms will automate many professions, but jobs requiring uniquely human characteristics - or are critical to the development of Digital solutions - will be in great demand by 2025.

A holistic Digital transformation strategy, which considers the Digital workforce along with the business model, process and customer channel dimensions, will be imperative for organisations wishing to remain relevant in the next 10 years.

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