Will New Technologies Make Your Organization Obsolete?
During the Second Industrial Revolution in Britain, it was common for people to be woken up by a person tapping on their bedroom windows with an extended rod. This real profession, called a knocker-upper, was essential to ensure that in the time before reliable and affordable alarm clocks, workers would be woken up on time to head to their factory jobs. As alarm clocks became cheaper and reliable, the job of the knocker-upper was in jeopardy. Eventually, the necessity for the job was eliminated. An entire industry vanished.
We can all likely think of many jobs made unnecessary and industries that have vanished as a result of innovation. It’s not all bad; we can also think of new industries, services and products that continue to emerge every year as a result of new technologies.
When considering the impact, scope and velocity of change in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, what types of industries may be most at risk?
Let’s face it, change is coming to most industries and those that are not engaged in planning or some form of transformation are at risk. Digitalization and automation may be the most obvious drivers of change right now. If a product or service can be reinvented with these drivers to become better and more competitive, it’s probably a serious candidate.
For instance, in Kevin Kelly’s book, “The Inevitable,” he introduces the concept of flowing. It means that static analog content is far less appealing in a world of rich, dynamic, online experiences. This is the same force that moved newspapers online and music to streaming and maps to apps. Many of the original non-flowing businesses that didn’t shift are gone, or at best, continue to struggle with old business models.
In Daniel Pink’s book, “A Whole New Mind,” he explores the topic of professions that may prosper in the future and those that may be at risk. The thesis is simple but important. It is based on which side of our brain we tap into for our work. The left side of our brain largely takes care of logic, things like process, structure and mathematics. The right side is where we get our creative abilities. His argument is that computers and machines are highly capable of replicating left brain activities but will struggle with the right brain creative processes for some time to come.
If humans are to have a meaningful role in the future, he contends, we’ll need to focus on right-brained work. Industries that are human-based and require largely left brain thinking will be dominated and reinvented by thinking machines. Here we’re not just talking about mass production factories where we’ve seen, for example, robots build cars and dishwashers. We’re also talking about professions such as lawyers, accountants and many types of software engineers. The professions more likely to succeed would include designers, storytellers and jobs that require empathy and play.
Now, I want to add a footnote to this item. Daniel Pink’s work slightly predates the recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI). Whereas his thesis is wholly reliant on a world where computers aren’t technically creative, AI may now be challenging this notion.
Finally, I recall a popular early 21st century meme. It’s an image with two pictures side by side. One is of a table with over 50 useful items from a music player to a calculator to a compass and more. The other picture is simply a smartphone and the caption reads, “Things my smartphone replaced.” Many of those items and their vendors have seen their markets significantly shrink and even disappear.
It’s a powerful reminder of what the scope, impact and velocity of change ahead may mean to today’s popular industries and careers.
Dr. Jonathan Reichental is an award-winning technologist and educator. This post is an adapted extract from the new version of his popular online video series, Foundations of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. You can watch it here now: reichental.com/4IR.