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Bring the Future Forward by Welcoming Technology as Your Colleague

Big Think Edge | March 13, 2018

Technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few generations. In the early 1960s, computer mainframes the size of semi-truck trailers that used transistors were considered cutting-edge because they were significantly more powerful than the vacuum, tube-based models that were the standard in the previous decade.

Today, a smartphone weighing a few ounces could blow one of those multi-ton computers out of the water with its technological power. Artificial intelligence (AI) was once purely the realm of science fiction—but now is increasingly part of our reality.

Rather than be intimidated by technology and fear that it will replace human workers, take a more prudent approach.

How can you prepare for the new technologies on the horizon? Welcome it as a colleague. Here are a few things to consider about the upcoming tech-based reality of work:

The Machines Are Getting Smarter, But They Still Have Their Limitations

One of the biggest buzzwords in tech is “machine learning.” A very basic description of machine learning would be a set of systems that allow a program to accumulate and learn from data.

For example, a robotic vacuum cleaner could, over time, “learn” the layout of a room over the course of several uses, noting the layout of the furniture and the distance between each wall. After accumulating enough data, the robot vacuum could then modify its operating pattern to cover the space more efficiently and quickly.

Andrew McAfee, Associate Director of the Center for Digital Business at the MIT Sloan School of Management, makes extensive study of how information technologies impact businesses. In one video interview for Big Think, McAfee talks about how machine learning can both excel at and fall short when it comes to creative expression—something most people would assume a machine cannot do. In the interview, McAfee says that:

“There's also technology that can compose music in almost any style that you suggest. And there's an interesting phenomenon going on there: when people know in advance that they're going to be listening to computer generated music they very often dismiss it as shallow or trivial or obviously not coming from a human composer's mind and heart. When listeners don't know in advance that they're listening to computer generated music they very often find it as evocative, as beautiful, as moving as anything a human being would come up with… However, what we haven't seen yet are computers that can turn out lyrics on top of that music that sound anything except either really, really silly or flat out nonsensical and ridiculous. And if you look at longer form prose that computers generate, they can generate an arbitrarily long novel, short story, set of prose, whatever—it's gibberish, it's nonsense, it kind of makes your head hurt in not a good way to have to plow through this stuff. And my explanation for why that is, is that computers—they just don't know anything about the human condition.”

The machine learning program can analyze rhythm patterns, types of noise, and more to find out what’s popular among listeners to create nonverbal music that is appealing. However, what they fail to do is understand the meaning behind words—the innumerable connotations that specific words or phrases might have.

So, while the ability of machines to learn and mimic creative processes is growing, there are still limitations on what machine learning can achieve. Understanding these limitations could be the key to effectively partnering with the technology of tomorrow.

Should Technology Be a Focus for Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives?

With technology getting smarter all the time, should it be a part of a company’s diversity & inclusion initiatives? Yes, but probably not in the sense of “machines as a protected status group” sense, but rather in the sense that people who have the skills to effectively use technology will need to be included at all levels of the organization.

As advanced technology becomes more commonplace, organizations will need to have people at the forefront of innovation that understand both how technology can be used and the potential impacts they might have. Having people in place who understand technology can help better prepare the organization for the introduction of a potentially disruptive technology.

The Millennial generation are considered “tech natives” because they have grown up immersed in this technology. Millennials are the generation of the internet, Facebook, and the smartphone.

So, a key part of a “future forward” strategy that welcomes technology and makes the fullest use of new innovations may well be to work on improving the inclusion of Millennial employees and training them to fit into your organization's structure, such as by:

  • Learning what makes the Millennials in your organization “tick”—especially what gets them motivated and engaged at work.
  • Creating learning opportunities to help Millennials grow and prepare for new responsibilities.
  • Providing some opportunities for internal mobility within your organization so Millennials can try out new things without having to leave.
  • Providing mentoring so Millennials can benefit from the experiences of their seniors—as well as share their technological expertise with their mentors.

Is your organization ready to welcome technology solutions as part of a forward-thinking strategy for future success? Learn more about the future of technology at work from experts like Andrew McAfee by getting a demo of Big Think Edge’s video learning library!

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