Today, we are seeing a consistently shrinking gap between humans and their machines. In fact, joining the augmented workforce may not be an option — it may be a requirement.
Among tech industry leaders, it is widely accepted that:
Augmentation is the future
Humans and machines will become more and more interdependent
These trends are pointing towards a future of lifelong, perpetual learning
I have already written about the future of work in my previous article, which covered current digital trends and future predictions. And I’ve also covered them in my articles on job displacement and automation.
However, in this article I’d like to offer some evidence that augmentation will become a prerequisite for functioning in the global, digital economy.
Understanding the augmented workforce
Technology leaders are reframing the relationship between humans and machines.
Human beings won’t just use machines – they’ll partner with and be augmented by machines.
That is, tomorrow’s workers will:
Have digital skills … or else. Today’s digital skills crisis may very well blossom into a “digital skills divide.” Those who are unwilling or unable to acquire a certain modicum of digital skills will likely be left behind by automation – at least for a while.
Become lifelong learners. The digital workplace is constantly transforming. New digital tools are developed and implemented continually … meaning that workers must continually learn new workflows, tools, and technology stacks.
Be augmented. If AI researchers successfully implant chips into people’s brains and if Elon Musk’s neuralink dream comes to fruition, humans will literally interface their brains with computers and AI. Accenture uses phrasing such as “human+” and Dell says we must form “human-machine partnerships.” Musk often cites the smartphone as a form of augmentation – so you could say that we are all already “augmented.”
These predictions are founded on some of today’s most widespread digital trends:
Digital Transformation – Digital transformation refers to technology adoption and everything that it entails. New technology enables new business processes, models, functions, and paradigms.
Process Automation – Robotic process automation, business process automation, and other automation technologies are displacing jobs and transforming careers. Just look at what Quickbooks did to accounting. Or what e-commerce did to offline retail. In the future, expect more of the same.
Digital Learning Automation – One big sign of the closing human-machine gap is the emergence of digital learning automation. Such platforms offer in-app training, chat bot interfaces, AI-driven analytics, and much more.
Virtual Assistants – Technology companies expect that most of our human-machine interactions will be handled by chatbot interfaces, such as Siri, Cortana, or Amazon Echo.
Wearables – Studies have shown that many people sleep within arm’s reach of their phone. But this human-machine gap shrinks even further when we introduce wearable devices, such as smart watches or visors … let alone Elon Musk’s neuralink.
To name just a few.
There are certainly others, but these trends are evidence enough that the human-machine gap is shrinking.
And that can only mean one thing for the future of work…
From digital transformation to a “post-digital,” augmented workforce
Now, let’s see how today’s tech trends will compel workers to become augmented … or else:
First of all, we are already there. Most people stay constantly connected to the internet thanks to their millions of devices, from phones to computers. Cut someone off from their Google Account, their devices, or their software, and they will have a very hard time performing their day-to-day work.
Automation pressures workers to upskill. If your job can be done by a computer, then workers must seriously consider acquiring new skills – but even upskilling poses problems. How do we know what tasks are subject to automation? Or by how much? For instance, copywriting is already automated to an extent … but where will it stop?
The human-machine gap will continue to shrink, rewarding those most digitally skilled and digitally integrated. The most productive, in-demand workers will be those who are the most productive with VR technology, AR technology, neural interfaces, et cetera. They will be the ones willing and able to continually learn and adapt to new technology as it emerges.
As I have said in past articles, the world will look very similar to a cyberpunk novel or Ghost in the Shell.
At worst, it will look like Brave New World.
Regardless of the societal state of the world, though, augmentation will be the standard.
Those who aren’t digitally integrated and augmented simply won’t be able to participate in the digital, global economy.
How does all this affect me?
In other words, how does this impact me and my business?
And what should I do about it?
We have already seen why augmentation matters – those that don’t keep up will fall behind.
But as far as what can be done about it – most research points toward lifelong learning.
For enterprises, it means embracing a digital-first business strategy, cutting-edge technology, ongoing change, and a modern workforce. To say the least.
For workers, it means continual, lifelong learning.
However, there is a caveat here…
A world built upon continual change will favor high-performance, high-productivity, high-IQ workers.
Such a setting will pose a swath of new ethical and social dilemmas, ranging from greater income inequality to ageism to increased poverty and crime.
If anyone were to ask me how to adapt, survive, and thrive among tomorrow’s augmented workforce, this is what I would say:
Become a lifelong learner. This is the common advice offered by most forward-thinking research firms. It also happens to be my own philosophy – skills translate into business value. The more you can do, the more valuable you are in the marketplace.
Invest in evergreen skills. Certain skills cannot be replaced by technology: creative skills, people skills, STEM knowledge, and so forth. In contrast, learning a particular software program wouldn’t be evergreen – each time the software changes, you must re-learn that program.
Drive your own career. AI, virtual assistants, and automation threaten to put many workers in the back seat. If people don’t pay attention to the road ahead, then that’s exactly where they’ll wind up. Self-driving trucks, to name one example, should be on every truck driver’s radar – they should actively be pursuing a Plan B in order to stay ahead.
Overspecialize at your peril. Despite all this talk about “intelligent machinery,” AI is not intelligent. It cannot think non-linearly. It cannot perform generalized tasks, though it outperforms humans at specialized tasks. Any job that is too narrow and specialized – too mechanical – is at risk of automation. Generalized learning doesn’t just make you more well-rounded, it also makes you more adaptable.
Ultimately, we shouldn’t just “wait around” to see what happens.
It’s pretty obvious that we are entering a new digital age – one that will look very different from the industrial era.
In this uncertain time, employees should be strategic and proactive about their future career choices.