By Kim Nilsson, CEO
I flew home over the Christmas holidays and on the way back, having some time to spare, I perused the book shops and found the usual slew of self-help books on how to get rich quickly and how to make friends with a smile. But a new theme emerged; that of how to survive in a World where Humans have no need to work. In a recent blog post I wrote about why we should not fear technology, in the sense that technology will not become a direct menace to us, but it may become an indirect menace, as a race of creatures used to toil for survival becomes destined for leisure. Data science and artificial intelligence (AI) will usher in this new era.
The global productivity dilemma
We are not quite there yet though; the Western World today has a productivity problem. The financial crisis of 2007-2008, with following downturns in the Western economies, has squeezed the finances of the lower and middle classes. Corporates and multi-nationals have asked for greater output with fewer resources, and for a long time technology has allowed for productivity to rise. The increase in GDP per capita in the UK more than tripled 1965-2005, but has since stalled and is only recently back at the levels it reached before 2007. And what is worse, even though UK workers put in long hours, it seems they have little to show for it. According to official figures, the UK workforce has some of the lowest productivity scores in the Western World. So how do we go from being a low productivity economy, recuperating from one of the worst financial meltdowns in modern history, to redundancy of work? Is it possible? And is that even something we want?
Will AI save us?
If the last thirty years were about inventing and improving on the computer as a tool, used as an extension of ourselves, almost the equivalent of an ancient hammer or screwdriver, the next thirty will be about refining and molding the capabilities of the computers to replace ourselves. I believe we are at an inflection point where the computer and its processor goes from apprentice to master. AI research and development is accelerating. Look at the recent advances in speech and voice recognition, and at the development of self-learning algorithms. Will DeepMind and its competitors eventually put us out of a job? Yes, I think so. When? Well, don’t book your tickets to the Bahamas just yet.
What exactly does the Future of Work and productivity look like? For the mass market, data science, rather than AI, is about to become mainstream. This is less about eliminating work, and more about eliminating waste and inefficiencies. We all know of applications of data science in marketing (e.g. recommendation engines, personalised advertising) and operations (pricing strategies, demand prediction), but there are incredible gains to be had also in process optimisation. Analysing process data to cut out a superfluous step in the process, or making call centers that little bit more efficient from pulling previous data together, can make enormous differences to the bottom lines of corporates, and ultimately to output of the whole country. Here is my prediction: 2017 will be the year that data science becomes mainstream, and the better use of data starts to make a concrete contribution to the bottom line of all companies.
Another year, another gig…
Another trend for the Future of Work is the Gig Economy. Our parents and generations before spent their whole working life in one company; advancing upwards if skilled and lucky and otherwise staying loyal. That was in part because of the relatively low skill level required for the work, in part because of information asymmetry, and in part because of the poor living conditions which meant the risk to your ability to survive that unemployment meant was substantial. This is all changing. Jobs in the new digital era are highly skilled, information travels freely over the internet, and the average living standard has risen incredibly in the last 50 years. In the next 50 years, work will be about challenging ourselves intellectually, variation to keep boredom away, and leaving the grunt work to the machines. Welcome to the Gig Economy, in which we jump from job to job, project to project, and never stop learning.
Data Science On Demand
Watching these trends, this is the reason why Pivigo is this month launching a data science marketplace. I know that data science is on the cusp of bringing true value; to companies and to the economy as a whole. I also believe that the future is in freelancing and crowd sourcing work as and when you need it. The marketplace allows data scientists to build careers as freelancers, without the worry of finding the next project, and allows companies to access to the best and brightest specialist analytical talent on a flexible basis. Data Science On Demand. Bring on the revolution.
And as for that future in which we don’t work, well, it is coming and I do believe it will be such a revolutionary change to our lives that there is a risk it will destabilize our society completely. We will have two paths to go down; spend the time focusing on our differences and using force to push our own thoughts and beliefs on others, or spend the time bringing together our joint expertise and brilliance in exploring our World and the Universe. Or we could just spend a lifetime in a beach chair. Anyone for a Pina Colada?