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03 Jun

Technology never sleeps

By David D’Souza, Head of London and Branch Development, CIPD.

When you go to bed tonight, your brain is still operating. It is still making sense of the world. But primarily, it is resting and recuperating. Your body and mind are in the process of refreshing for a large percentage of each night. During the day we process some information, we retain some information and we make sense of a range of inputs. We also spend time that is less focused on thinking or learning — we eat, we relax with friends or we switch off as much as we can and turn into zombies binge-watching a box set or a movie.

During all those relatively fallow periods, technology is relentlessly and tirelessly improving. It doesn’t sleep, it doesn’t break off to grab a quick snack and it certainly doesn’t put anything off to watch a movie. It learns, improves and then learns some more. There is no way to compete with something that mechanical. It is reading, calculating, running scenarios and problem solving whilst you doze.

There is interesting work being carried out around minimising the amount of sleep that we need, by triggering deep sleep more rapidly, but we won’t ever be learning machines of that nature. We have created platforms and programmes, set against which, we are at an evolutionary disadvantage.

There is no doubt that the debate on the impacts of automation too often oscillates from apocalyptic to a vast underestimation of the potential impact. It is true that new jobs will be created over the coming years, but it’s unclear why those jobs would be better suited to being delivered by humans rather than AI or robotics. When I talk about automation to groups, a strange quirk is that usually most people think everyone else’s job in the room could be replaced by technology except theirs. It’s an intriguingly human response to changes that can seem out of our control.

We need to make choices over our future and we need to not only deal with some of the realities of technology, but to play an active part in shaping those technologies. Whether as a species, country or community, we need to shape our own destiny together. There are big questions, big challenges and big opportunities over the coming years. It’s a complex world and if you are struggling to make sense of the scale of the shift, then I suggest you do something distinctly human: sleep on it and come back to it in the morning.

Just know that whilst you were sleeping the problem advanced… just a little bit.

2 thoughts on “Technology never sleeps

  1. Profile photo of Derek T

    With you on this one: driverless light rail works and if that were to extend to say an Underground/Metro system, I’d be ok with that; driverless cars or buses — no thanks. On the road there are many situations that require analog, real-time assessment of and varied responses to a huge range of variable conditions.

    This is actually an example of the way humans can add value beyond automation — being able to assess and process circumstances in their entirety, being able to flex and adopt various responses as appropriate.

  2. Profile photo of Para

    Well,I am not so keen on driver less cars (me want control too much) but yesterday at my hair dresser’s thought some of the boring repetitive tasks could be done by robots. I want to share with you a recent article in McKinsey Quarterly that flagged up four aspects worth thinking about when we discuss workplace automation.

    •The automation of services – many of the work we currently do can be automated
    •Redefinition of jobs and business processes – automation will change the way we work – so start thinking about how this will be implemented and the quality work that humans can do as a result of automation. e.g. lawyers already use text-mining techniques to read through thousands of documents collected during discovery, allowing them to focus on the ones that need deeper review by staff
    • Impact on high wage occupations – automation is not anymore about replacing low skill jobs.
    •Future of creativity and meaning – how can we enhance this whilst automation takes away routine, repetitive jobs.

    There is currently a lot of talk about robots and automation,and fear of the unknown. The best way of mitigating this is to be prepared by engaging in discussion with the topic in some detail.

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