Imagine in the next decade, your business’s performance reviews could be done by a robot supervisor. Or you hail a cab, except it’s a fully automated, self-driving car. How about having your coffee brewed by an automated barista?
This could soon be the reality for people in Australia, and around the world, as technology reaches the point when machines are capable of independent thought, a concept known as the singularity.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) experts and scientists predict this may occur within as little as 10 years.
But it’s not as daunting as it may seem. For a start, we live with AI already.
Think about the algorithms behind your Google searches and web history. Notice when you are online shopping, and later log in to Facebook, you receive online recommendations based on your previous purchases. The software is constantly learning your behaviours and responding to you more usefully.
While it is remarkable that technology can target you so personally, it’s described as “narrow” AI because it can only work within its limitations given by human inventors, a critical restriction.
On the flipside, “strong” AI suggests a more assertive ability to go beyond the original human intentions to the point where the machine’s intellectual capability is functionally equal to a human’s.
While “strong” AI is predicted to be over a decade away, “narrow” AI is all around us.
It will only become more sophisticated, having profoundly positive effects on many areas of work and opening up new job opportunities in areas that are currently only theoretical.
It’s been predicted that 65% of children today will end up in jobs that are yet to be created, probing us to think about how technology may change our future.
We’ve seen recent discussion of this. Professor Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak have all issued stark warnings about where technology might lead – especially with the rise of autonomous, weaponised drones and robots.
While the world probably won’t end up going the way of the Terminator movie series, the changes we might see are likely to be closer than everyone expects.
If you are in business, developing your career or even thinking about what job you might have in the future, it makes sense to start planning now for the highly automated world that is quickly evolving.
So what is the future of work?
With the rise of automation, the world of work is going to change fundamentally over the next two decades.
While we are probably not all going to be reporting to a robot, the reality is the nature of jobs will slowly change over time, while roles we’ve not yet thought of will also open up. If you are starting a business or thinking about your career, it is important to plan now.
But regardless of how advanced the technology may be, one thing that is unlikely to change is our desire for human experience.
As the world evolves, in everything from your retail experience to making a business deal, the complex interactions we have with people are likely to become, if anything, more valuable.
Take, for example, buying music. There’s nothing more convenient than today’s digital download, but how many music lovers miss the experience of going into the record shop to talk to the assistant about the latest release from their favourite band? That sort of experience is only going to become more sought-after.
Here are the three things that a small business owner can to do to prepare for the age of AI:
1. Digitise your business: get online with a business website and automate as many manual processes as you can.
2. Focus on the customer experience that your product or service delivers. In the age of robotics, human contact will very likely become more valuable.
3. Broaden your business network. Create relationships and partnerships that will enable you to connect more strongly with people.
Again, it is likely to be the ‘human factor’ that will make all the difference. While technology provides us with high efficiency and accuracy, some skills are fundamentally difficult to automate.
We still have an advantage over robots for the tasks that require judgment, creative thinking and human interaction.
Surviving the Singularity: An MYOB Future of Business report is available fordownload now.
Simon Raik-Allen is chief technology officer at MYOB.