I stumbled across the quote below, from Bill Gates, again recently in the context of technology and work. Whatever your technology preferences, I think it is fair to say that he was pretty smart about the industry and has a unique view from which to survey the ladscape. He wrote this in 1995 in his book “The Road Ahead” about the implications of personal computing. The internet and the web were more of a glow at that time but the growth and reach since substantiate the sentiment:
We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.
In the world of workplace technologies this quote holds a lot of water still. The hype and froth about the impact of new platfoms and tools inflates the impact they will have in the near term and the longer term possibilties and implications go largely overlooked.
I suspect that AI is a case in point. The hype is unlikely to be realised as experimentation matures the applications being developed but the longer term changes that (automoted) intelligent use of data will create need some consideration. We will not all be unemploued by robots by Christmas of next year but we may well be seeing swathes of basic tasks being automated in 2029. I would inlcude the creation of content by data and alogorithms in that list of possibilities. Is compliance eLearning a good candidate for automation in ten years time? Or will a different solution to completion tracking be available?
The hilarity and frustration of dealing with voice commands is familiar to the millions of households with an Echo or a Google Home device. How can these conversations possibly reach into the workplace and encroach on my carefully designed communication and content design? There has been at least one false dawn for these experiences already and they are only a few years old. They are also only on their first and second generation of products. I suspect, however, that the data created from literally billions of voice interactions will point to an array of possible uses in performance support and help desk activity, for example. Once a policy document is agreed (by pepople?) the communiction, publishing, learning/training and performance support content may not need much human intervention to create and distribute.
Ten years ago video conferencing was a clunky and unreliable experience (and yes, there are kinks to iron out still). The idea that it would eradicate the need for business travel was, shortly after being proposed by the boosters, roundly pooh-poohed by those of us who had tried it in (sometimes deep) anger. In 2019 video calls and meetings of all kinds are routinely organised and held and rarely questioned. There is an industry there now and it will continue to grow. Part of this growth is fueled because we have found new habits, norms and techniques in work when using these tools. As they get better we get better at applying them. It is precisely not because they substitute any need to get together in the same space at the same time. That is unlikely to go out of fashion quickly.
I am not intending to suggest which outcomes are likely or desirable. I donlt feel well qulaified for that. I do think that Bill Gates has a point though – our near term experiences, against the hype we see on Twitter, might not be the best places to look for the significance of these technologies in our working lives over the medium and longer terms.