The future of work is a white-hot topic at the moment. We’ve all heard that machines are coming to take our jobs and the Robot Apocalypse is coming. It seems as if everyone, from governments to big brands, is producing a report on how automation, digitisation and other technological advances will affect our future workplaces, talent and educational approaches.
Separating fear from fact is difficult as humans try to both shape and second-guess the future that is both immediate and years away.
Industry 4.0 is driving these conversations. This new generation of cyber-physical work processes, involving automation through artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things, cloud computing and more, will evolve over the next 20 years. The change will be exponential, both in machine-ascendant industries and in the corresponding human world of Work 4.0.
The big questions on the table are:
- Are robots and AI set to take your job, and what does this mean for the future of human work?
- Is your business, company or organisation prepared for the AI work revolution?
As a recruiter in the field of digital communications, I have good news for those of you working in technical communication and intelligent content: the Robot Apocalypse is going help your job. A lot.
Techcomm professionals and other adaptable digital communicators are ideally placed to enter a new way of looking at content, one which is adapted to the way users will process information in the AI age. Information 4.0 is a subset of Industry 4.0 and is the evolution of how content will work in the age of machine interfaces.
What is Information 4.0?
Information is an integral part of the new AI equation, and understanding how it will look and function is critical to our future job survival. The Information 4.0 Consortium was set up to start this process of trying to define and shape the future of information in a more human, user-centric way.
The Consortium’s definition-in-progress is that Information 4.0 will be:
- Molecular – no documents, just information molecules
- Dynamic – continuously updated
- Offered rather than delivered
- Ubiquitous, online, searchable and findable
- Spontaneous – triggered by contexts
- Profiled automatically
How much of this is determined by machine and how much by human is in negotiation.
Where do humans fit in?
Industry 4.0 is made up of cyber-physical systems and components interconnected within a kind of Internet of Things. Product components will have built-in data, or information molecules, that talk directly to machine systems and production lines without needing to go through a central hub or necessarily requiring human involvement. Machines are even taking over the supervisor role in some manufacturing environments.
This represents a revolution not only for businesses but also for society, as many jobs will either be disrupted or become obsolete. You’ve already read plenty about it in the news, mostly about job losses. Blue-collar industries are among the first to be affected by automation but it’s also coming to white-collar jobs too, even to highly professionalised fields, such as, medicine (especially diagnostics and surgery/equipment-based interventions) and airline pilots…. (Check out this Oxford University study The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation? for a list of the jobs that are most and least at risk from computerisation.)
But let us focus on the opportunities.
AI is an advantage where it can reason, deduce, predict and basically replicate human analytical decision-making capabilities as well or better than human intelligence. It is less competent in tasks that are creative, empathetic, ethical or requiring emotional, sensitive or complex interpersonal communication.
The human-machine relationship is still being codified and there will be new roles, work processes and needs that come to the fore, ones that are not fully or at all served by machines.
How to prepare for the AI revolution?
The AI revolution is about not losing track of our core humanist values as we move to a world where information is more controlled by machines.
As a recruiter, I know that AI will bring plenty of new opportunities for those working in the flourishing world of information – AI is all about processing data in order to act, after all – and I predict some good things for the field of digital communications and intelligent content.
When it comes to job specifics, however, there are more questions than answers, and this will be the case for some time as the field evolves, and as brands start to embrace the tech and the tipping point is reached.
The best things you can do to prepare right now are to research the changes, build your skills and experiences as you go, and position yourself as best you can for an uncertain future.
Massive changes lie ahead for us all. Here are five ways to get started.
1. Join the Information 4.0 revolution
Firstly, I recommend that you join the Information 4.0 Consortium – it’s free to register – and this is a central hub for technical communicators and others to stay on top of current thinking and take part in discussions that are shaping Information 4.0.
2. Prepare for the future of work
Knowledge will put power in your hands. Follow the #futureofwork topic on Twitter, read blog posts on the topic by experts and commentators, download those government and large organisation reports… The research is out there. Don’t be caught sleeping.
3. Become a lifelong learner
New forms of man-machine interaction are coming to the fore and there will be many variants so don’t rely on your existing knowledge. Technical ability will be more important in determining employability in the future than formal qualifications. Spotting opportunities, reinventing yourself as you go along and continual upskilling are the future.
4. Adapt to survive
Lack of adaptability is the biggest danger facing the next generation of workers. Knowing what those changes are likely to be may help direct your career and give you the advantage. The University of St Gallen, for example, has produced a Work 4.0 study (PDF) on 25 emerging megatrends in the digital work of the future, for example:
- Peer to peer instead of hierarchy
- Assigning instead of employing
- Roles moving from execution to monitoring
- Machines as colleagues and partners
- Cloud- and crowd-working as a transitional phenomenon (virtual labourers working on small parts or piece work)
- Job-hopping and cherry-picking
- Work without geographical limits
- Non-linear thinking as the human domain
5. Compete on how you present yourself
Most of what we see today in recruitment is inadequate for the new world we’ll be working in. As recruiters, we validate all CVs claims and survey candidates’ social media profiles, sure. But many more things are coming.
Competing talent can likely expect hirers and recruiters to make greater use of open data and use more psychometric testing and new methodologies that are designed to reveal character traits, resilience and adaptability. They’ll also be seeking other available digital footprints from social media to… who knows yet?
This transparency may help employers decide on whom to hire, leaving (adaptable) workers to wisely use such data to embrace their strengths and work on their weaknesses.
Technology and business are changing. Culture and society are changing. Work and recruitment are changing. If you’re not changing, too, then you risk being left behind in a highly competitive, technically oriented work environment.
Yes, I believe much of the change will benefit the digital communications profession but only if we can adapt accordingly. There’s no time to waste. As recruiters, we have to step up our game and embrace the changes. We will actively be seeking the talent to fulfil the new roles, many of which haven’t even been invented yet. It’s not going to be easy. Big data wants to take the human element out of recruiting, too.
We can’t ignore it but we will all have to navigate it.
CJ Walker is the founder of Firehead.net, a European-wide specialist recruiter in digital communications.