No, it’s not forbidden to innovate, quite the opposite, but it’s always risky to do something different from what people are used to. Risk is the middle name of the bold, the builders of the future. Those who constantly face resistance from skeptics. Those who fail eight times and get up nine.
(Credit: Adobe Stock)
Fernando Pessoa’s “First you find it strange. Then you can’t get enough of it.” contained intolerable toxicity levels for Salazar’s Estado Novo (Portugal). When the level of difference increases, censorship follows. You can’t censor censorship (or can you?) when, deep down, it’s a matter of fear of difference. Yes, it’s fear! Fear of accepting/facing the unknown. Fear of change.
What do I mean by this? Well, I may seem weird or strange with the ideas and actions I take in life, but within my weirdness, there is a kind of “Eye of Agamotto” (sometimes being a curse for me)… What I see is authentic and vivid. Sooner or later, that future I glimpse passes into this reality.
When the difference enters, it becomes normal and accepted by society to make room for more innovation, change, and difference.
The term “cyberspace” first appeared in fiction in the 1980s, incorporating the Internet invented earlier (1969). It’s as if time doesn’t matter, and cyberspace always exists. There might not be a name for it yet, but it sure did, like certain Universal Laws that we are discovering and coining, but that has always existed.
It is the ether of digital existence…!
In 1995, I was also called crazy — albeit nicely, by the way — when, from door to door, I announced the presence of something called the Internet. Entrepreneurs who esteemed me until they warmly welcomed me into their companies, perhaps because of my passion for explaining what was unknown to them, only to decline later what I proposed to them: placing companies in the network of networks.
I was affectionately dubbed crazy for a few more years until the part where “I stopped being crazy” to be another entrepreneur exploring something still strange called the Internet. We were about to reach the so-called “dot-com bubble.” The competition had arrived, and I clapped my hands; I no longer felt alone!
(Obviously, I wasn’t the only one to see the future forming in front of our eyes. I saw color on black and white screens.)
The heights of wisdom, the masters of the universe, began to emerge because they heard that the Internet was a business that made much money, and the gold rush became frantic and ridiculous. A few years later — some weren’t for years — there was a mushroom explosion.
After persuasion resulting from the obvious and not the explanations of insane people (me included), this new industry has matured and revolutionized the world. However, history tends to repeat itself, and several revolutions, large and small, have taken place since then. Some are so natural that change happens overt and viral. But more attention needs to be paid to some revolutionary changes that could jeopardize human existence as we know it.
I’m referring to Artificial Intelligence (AI) which is now everywhere, albeit invisible and tenuous. The exponential acceleration of technology is taking us there to the point of no return.
When Moore’s Law itself becomes outdated, it only means that technological acceleration has gone into “warp” speed. At the risk of us human beings becoming outdated, we must change our reluctance and skepticism.
There is no time for skepticism. Adaptation to what is coming, or what is already here among us, like extraterrestrials, is crucial for the evolution and survival of the human species. I believe we are at another great peak of technological development.
I always pursued the future, not to live outside the reality of the present but to help build it. After all these years of dealing with the “Eye of Agamotto,” I feel the duty and obligation to contribute to a better future and not sit idly by watching what I fear will happen.
Angels and demons lurk between the zeros and ones!
So far, with current conventional computers, including supercomputers, the acceleration is already vertiginous. With quantum computers, the thing becomes much more serious, and if we aren’t up to merging our true knowledge, our human essence, with machines, danger lurks.
Quantum computing powers AI, maximizing it. An exponentiated AI quickly arrives at the AGI. That is the Artificial General Intelligence or Superintelligence that equals or surpasses the average human intelligence. That’s the intelligence of a machine that can successfully perform any intellectual task of any human being.
When we no longer have the artificiality of “our own” intelligence and Superintelligence has emerged, it’s good that the bond between human and machine has already had a real “handshake” to understand each other, just like two “modems,” understood each other in the BBS (Bulletin Board System) time.
We human beings are still — and I believe we always will be — the central computer, albeit with inferior computational resources (for now), and replaced by mighty machines that accelerate our evolution.
There is no way out. It’s inevitable. It’s evolution. So, a challenge and not a problem. Perhaps the greatest human challenge. So far, it’s been warming up. Henceforth, everything done will have to be free of human toxicity so that New AI is, in fact, our best version, the cream of the very best in human beings; its essence in the form of a whole!
A digital transformation is a transition to a different world. The power of adaptation to this different world defines our existence (survival, like Darwin).
As you’ve already noticed, the title of this article (Innovation is a risk!) has a double meaning. Let me complement it with:
Are Administrative/Executive Assistants (EA)/Personal Assistants (PA) already living in the future as new technology hits the workplace?
Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the most disruptive technologies affecting today’s business environment. Explosive developments, funding and support for increasing the role of AI in all sectors, and across all job roles seem to be a key driver of the future of business. The impact of AI over the next decade is expected to completely transform the landscape, and no industry, or job, will be left untouched.
Jobs are among the chief concerns whenever the topic of AI is mentioned. Most people have by now heard that “robots are coming” for jobs, and that mass unemployment is “inevitable” in our collective future. But, some jobs could be transformed for the better with the rise of smart technologies making routine work easier, allowing people to focus on the job elements that they can really add value to. For that reason, we suggest that the Administrative/Executive Assistant (EA)/Personal Assistant (PA) of 2025 will not be replaced by technology, but rather, enhanced by it.
In many ways, the future is already here. Though the Admins/EAs/PAs are indeed job roles which are already being affected by AI, there is ample evidence to show that the future outlook is actually quite good as a benefit of smart technology.
With that said, it is impossible to know for sure which jobs will be eliminated within the next 10 years. However, given the quickly changing technological conditions, and with AI evolving every single day, it seems that if the Admins/EAs/PAs role remains on the job market in 2025, AI will change it significantly, and for the better.
Even more exciting, it is possible that AI will create more occasions in Admin/EA and PA work where the requirement to demonstrate uniquely human skills and capabilities will be emphasised over technology. All this points to a potentially exciting transformation for the Admin/EA/PA role.
Artificial intelligence has already radically changed the role of the Admins/EAs/PAs over the last 10 years. The changes have been even more significant than the introduction of personal computers and the smartphone combined, but possibly less obvious. A close look at the sort of things the admin job holder used to do exclusively, like typing memos and letters, scheduling meetings, booking travel, and making reservations shows that AI has already replaced nearly all of those tasks.
The responsibilities which Admins/EAs/PAs are likely to perform include acting as a first point of contact, dealing with correspondence and phone calls, managing diaries and organising meetings and appointments. At times the job can even involve controlling access to a manager or executive. Another key area includes booking and arranging travel, transport and accommodation.
Already, several applications and systems exist which can take over some of those tasks. For example, x.ai personal assistant can help schedule meetings. Voice recognition typing software can be used to send messages without Admins/EAs/PAs involvement. Voice recognition has replaced the need to type just about anything; an AI not only records the words spoken, but also optimises grammar and any emphasis required. It also translates any message into an alternative language, in real time if required.
The Future: The Admin/EA/PA of 2025
Yes, AI personal assistants will likely take on the more routine tasks away from human executive assistants—in fact, this is already transpiring. However, in the future, admin jobs filled by human workers shall not be completely erased: Humans will be available, but at a premium. Such admin positions would require more specialized training where people skills, insightful knowledge in specific domains and counselling would meet. The employees in these roles might also need to efficiently interact with AIs and augmented humans, which is a new skill that many people would have to learn in any job in 2025.
Gaining a better understanding for data is another area where Admins/EAs/PAs may have to adapt to the role of AI in their jobs. For example, seamless data flows will allow AI tools to access the diaries of multiple colleagues and perfectly schedule meetings, freeing the employee to focus on more important, human-centric tasks like personally following up with important clients. It may be important to increase the understanding of data analytics among some Admins/EAs/PAs to know when to apply a human touch. Technical knowledge to complete most tasks may become unnecessary, but a clear understanding of the limitations and capabilities of big data might give some workers an edge. Furthermore, programming skills (at least a fundamental understanding) could give some in the role the advantaged ability to customize how the data gets crunched, personalising the benefits of technology to their client or projects.
As an example of how to use AI to enhance the human element at work, imagine a specialized meeting planning algorithm that uses basic information about a meeting (attendees, venue options, timing, and catering requirements). An AI-powered digital assistant could access the required attendees’ diaries and public personal data, resolve any conflicts, make the room reservation, and automatically order the appropriate catering. In this scenario, the detailed leg work being done by AI should help avoid any mistakes or errors on the financial and logistical side, while a human employee overseeing the entire process would be there to provide a personal touch as needed. It is even possible that algorithmically-curated seating arrangements designed to avoid personality clashes among meeting attendees, based on insights drawn by trawling participants’ social media accounts could become common place.
AI is evolving so quickly that, within a few years, there could be similar applications which book the travel and hotels for executives intuitively. Within ten years a digital assistant could do everything to meet travel and hotel preferences of the executive including airline, flight times, departure and arrival airport, transfers, hotel chain. All while maximising traveller reward schemes during the reservation and payment. All that would be needed to do is for a admin to determine when, where and for how long the business executive would like to travel and input all requirements to one device (like Alexa or Google smart). The smart AI assistant would find the best option available for the price. Passport details and payment would be already saved in the system. Once the AI generated a list of available options, arrangements would be approved by a human assistant, then AI could make the booking. Rather than perform rote tasks in this future, Admins/EAs/PAs are the conduit for AI that can intuitively anticipate needs and maximise benefits/minimise cost and inconvenience. The objective for admins in this future is not to make travel arrangements, but to make sure there’s a world-life and human-machine balance.
Another change we may see is development of careers within one single industry, as it becomes key for Admins/EAs/PAs to know the business inside out. So, there might be a job opening for “finance PA” or one that works exclusively with food industry executives. Specialization to the industry would be a by-product of the fact that people in the role place increasing emphasis on relationships. If most routine information is being handled by AI, the future of work in these jobs is really about people skills. Also, specialized knowledge and experience could be highly valued, perhaps ensuring abundant job offers that revolve around one field.
Another twist in the future of admin jobs could be that Admins/EAs/PAs work on call and become paid for specific tasks. Temporary workers or fill-ins on the job could use AI to access or “upload” the knowledge base and even institutional memory and history about what they need to know to cover for a specific person, say in the case of maternity leave. This line of developments follows the trends toward the sharing economy and taskification, embodied by Uber, AirBnB and Task Rabbit—disruptors whose time has come (and possibly gone), although their imprint on future business models may linger. Admins/EAs/PAs may experience better job prospects in the gig economy, although work stability would be an issue. It is possible that Admin/EA/PA work would become a “side job” in the face of massive unemployment cuts, similar to the Uber driver or task worker.
One wider social trend driving the future of Admins/EAs/PAs employment is that the job market and people’s perception of the work environment has changed massively in past years. Telecommuting numbers keep rising: every year more directors and managers prefer to work at home or remotely than commute to crowded offices. Assuming this trend continues to grow over the next 10 years, would more people working remotely in the future reduce number of admins needed in the workforce? Or increase the potential for admin employment due to flexibility and possibly taking on multiple clients, projects and roles? There may be good potential for entrepreneurially-minded entrants to Admin/EA/PA work, which may serve as a form of insurance in terms of employment instability wrought by artificial intelligence, maybe using AI to help deliver effective and human contract admin support to executives in the form of a company with sector-experienced PAs offered to client companies on a fee per task basis.
The dominant trajectory for the future is where technology continues to undertake the more transactional type of work, and the future Admin/EA/PA is the executive’s relationship manager. In this future, the same way that many products and services have been commoditised and the premium value is in human to human relationships, the admin is focusing on relationships both inside and outside the organisation.
Today’s PA is already at a point where he or she has become fully representative of the executive’s brand and the organisation’s reputation. The skill set required by the job seems remarkably similar to that required by today’s successful executives. Listening, reasoning, collaborating, working in complex and uncertain situations, and empathy are critically important as Admins/EAs/PAs work to provide a more sophisticated type of support to the executive. PAs are no longer co-ordinators of a small compartment of business activities, but a relationship builder, a relationship developer and a partner to the executive. Ironically, the interpersonal skills required of people in these roles are becoming more essential as the job duties themselves are alleviated by technology tools. Tapping into the human element on the job will be what sets the Admin/EA/PA of the future apart from its AI rivals.
A version of this article appeared in 2018 Blueprint on the future role of the PA/EA.
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About The Authors
The authors are futurists with Fast Future who specialise in studying and advising on the impacts of emerging change. Fast Future also publishes books from future thinkers around the world exploring how developments such as AI, robotics and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, society and business and create new trillion-dollar sectors. Fast Future has a particular focus on ensuring these advances are harnessed to unleash individual potential and enable a very human future. See: www.fastfuture.com
Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, keynote speaker, author, and CEO of Fast Future where he helps clients develop and deliver transformative visions of the future. He is the editor and contributing author for The Future of Business, editor of Technology vs. Humanity, and co-editor of a forthcoming book on Unleashing Human Potential–The Future of AI in Business.
Steve Wells is the COO of Fast Future and an experienced Strategist, Futures Analyst, and Partnership Working Practitioner. He is a co-editor of The Future of Business, Technology vs. Humanity, and a forthcoming book on Unleashing Human Potential–The Future of AI in Business.
April Koury is a foresight researcher, writer, and publishing director at Fast Future. She is a contributor to The Future of Business, and a co-editor of Technology vs. Humanity, and a forthcoming book on 50:50–Scenarios for the Next 50 Years.
Alexandra Whittington is the foresight director at Fast Future. She is a futurist, writer, and faculty member on the Futures programme at the University of Houston. She is a contributor to The Future of Business and a co-editor for forthcoming books on Unleashing Human Potential–The Future of AI in Business and 50:50–Scenarios for the Next 50 Years.
Maria Romero is a futurist and foresight researcher with Fast Future. A recent graduate from the University of Houston Master in Foresight, Maria has worked on projects for consultants, NGOs, for-profit organisations, and government clients. She is currently working on a study of AI in business.
Karolina Dolatowska is the service manager at Fast Future. She is currently studying Business English while managing several publishing and financial projects at Fast Future.
How can we tackle gender imbalance in the personalities of AI learning tools?
The Gendering of AI
The expected growth in use of artificial intelligence (AI) in learning applications is raising concerns about both the potential gendering of these tools and the risk that they will display the inherent biases of their developers. Why the concern? Well, to make it easier for us to integrate AI tools and chatbots into our lives, designers often give them human attributes. For example, applications and robots are often given a personality and gender. Unfortunately, in many cases, gender stereotypes are being perpetuated. The type of roles robots are designed to perform usually reflect gendered over generalizations of feminine or masculine attributes.
Feminine personalities in AI tools such as chatbots and consumer devices like Amazon’s Alexa are often designed to have sympathetic features and perform tasks related to care giving, assistantship, or service. Many of these applications have been created to work as personal assistants, in customer service or teaching. Examples include Emma the floor cleaning robot and Apple’s Siri your personal iPhone assistant. Conversely, male robots are usually designed as strong, intelligent and able to perform “dirty jobs”. They typically work in analytical roles, logistics, and security. Examples include Ross the legal researcher, Stan the robotic parking valet and Leo the airport luggage porter.
Gendering of technology is problematic because it perpetuates stereotypes and struggles present in society today. It can also help reinforce the inequality of opportunities between genders. These stereotypes aren´t beneficial for either males or females as they can limit a person´s possibilities and polarize personalities with artificial boundaries.
We propose four strategies to help tackle this issue at different stages of the problem:
Mix it up – Developers of AI learning solutions can experiment with allocating different genders and personality traits to their tools.
Gender based testing – New tools can be tested on different audience to assess the impact of say a quantum mechanics teaching aide with a female voice but quite masculine persona.
Incentives for women in technology - By the time we reach developer stage the biases may have set in. So, given the likely growth in demand for AI based applications in learning and other domains, organizations and universities could sponsor women to undertake technology degrees and qualifications which emphasize a more gender balanced approach across all that they do from the make-up of faculty to the language used.
Gender neutral schooling – The challenge here is to provide gender neutral experiences from the start, as the early stages experiences offered to children usually perpetuate stereotypes. How many opportunities do boys have to play with dolls at school without being bullied? Teachers’ interactions are crucial in role modeling and addressing “appropriate” or “inappropriate behavior”. For example, some studies show teachers give boys more opportunities to expand ideas orally and are more rewarded to do so than girls. Conversely girls can be punished more severely for the use of bad language.
A version of this article originally appeared in Training Journal.
Image https://pixabay.com/images/id-3950719/ by john hain
The authors are futurists with Fast Future — a professional foresight firm specializing in delivering keynote speeches, executive education, research, and consulting on the emerging future and the impacts of change for global clients. Fast Future publishes books from leading future thinkers around the world, exploring how developments such as AI, robotics, exponential technologies, and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, societies, businesses, and governments and create the trillion-dollar sectors of the future. Fast Future has a particular focus on ensuring these advances are harnessed to unleash individual potential and enable a very human future. See: www.fastfuture.com
Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, award-winning keynote speaker, author, and the CEO of Fast Future. His prime focus is on helping clients understand and shape the emerging future by putting people at the center of the agenda. Rohit is the co-author of Designing Your Future, lead editor and a contributing author for The Future of Business, and editor of Technology vs. Humanity. He is a co-editor and contributor for the recently published Beyond Genuine Stupidity – Ensuring AI Serves Humanity and The Future Reinvented – Reimagining Life, Society, and Business, and two forthcoming books — Unleashing Human Potential – The Future of AI in Business, and 50:50 – Scenarios for the Next 50 Years.
Helena Calle is a researcher at Fast Future. She is a recent graduate from the MSc. program in Educational Neuroscience at Birkbeck, University of London, and has eight years of international experience as a teacher, teacher trainer, pedagogic coordinator, and education consultant. Helena coordinates Fast Future’s research on the future of learning.
What might the end of work mean for the future of buildings? Firstly, a significant proportion of the built environment that has up to now been designed for people-centred economic activities —offices, shopping centers, banks, factories and schools—may over the next 10–20 years house 50% or less of the number of workers with far fewer physical customers. Furthermore, with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), some organizations might run on algorithm alone with literally no human staff.
The future of jobs is not just about employment, but about larger societal shifts with dramatic impact on the use of space and resources. Indeed, AI is increasingly likely to provide a meta-level management layer — collating data from a variety from a range of sources to monitor and control every aspect of the built environment and the use of resources within it.
Today, at the dawn of the AI revolution, some of the latest technology coming at us involves mixed reality; advances in virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are buzzing with new uses in places of work, education and various commercial settings. Teaching and training are exemplary uses — enabling dangerous, rare or just everyday situations to be simulated for trainees. Such simulations also provide the nexus point for humans to work alongside AI. For example, robot surgeons might do the cutting, while a human surgeon looks on remotely via video or a VR/AR interface. How might places be redesigned to accommodate this human-AI hybrid job future? The outcome could be spaces that embrace the blurring of physical and digital worlds, possibly with multi-sensory connection points between the two.
The coming wave of AI in business and society could impact the future design, use and management of buildings in dramatic ways. Key design features, including construction, security, monitoring and maintenance, could become coordinated by highly automated AI neural networks. For example, future office buildings might make intelligent responses to their inhabitants’ moods or feelings in order to increase productivity of humans in the organization—varying lighting, temperature, background music, ambient smells, and digital wallpaper displays according to the motivational needs of each worker.
In the post-work, shared infrastructure economy architects could also factor in ‘multi-purposing’ in the design of new buildings and the remodelling of existing ones. For example, why couldn’t schools double as courtrooms, doctor’s, surgeries, social centres, libraries, etc. in the evenings and during holidays?
Empty space could become more and more of a liability to towns and cities as retail and education move online. In the USA up to 1,000 retail outlets a week are currently being closed. A Texas firm has suggested a design for old shopping malls and retail outlets as drone ports, for example. Other options might include repurposing them as maker spaces, community centres, pop-up cafes, and adult learning outlets. The pace of automation of retail and commerce is likely to be exponential: imagine a chatbot that could coordinate drone deliveries of the groceries ordered by web-connected smart refrigerators that run on IBMs Watson AI platform. Intuitive and predictive AI seems set to revolutionize the home and business.
As advances in the cognitive sciences accelerate, there is growing fascination with the idea of neuro-architecture as control mechanism in a post-work society: will mass automation and efficiency expectations justify the construction of buildings that are responsive to people’s needs, read moods, use biometrics, and conduct behavior-conditioning of employees? There are a number of reasons to think these strategies could become accepted practice. Many AI analysts argue that, rather than compete with robots, humans will do more meaningful and important work than ever. Hence, the use of building design to evoke certain feelings, enhance moods and creativity, and the use of behavioural insights to motivate the workforce could provide an important advantage in the new ‘cobot’ normal of humans working alongside intelligent robots.
As work becomes automated it also becomes more cloud-based and fewer offices need the amount of space they once did or for the purposes space once served. New uses of space to accommodate virtual AI workers and to provide a comfortable environment for human employees will be in demand. Furthermore, replacing actual workers with code means the layout, design and supplies necessary for the typical office would completely change. The role of AI in reducing the amount of people and ‘stuff’ places must accommodate should open up considerable opportunities for building redesign.
Designing to a post-job future doesn’t necessarily mean that high-tech has the advantage. There will be valuable opportunities to inject a touch of humanity to key settings where people will interact with AI —work, home and public spaces. The rise of AI means we must consider different visions of the future where 50% or more of the workforce is automated out of a job and the new sectors haven’t taken up all the displaced individuals. With the right perspective, positive design adjustments can help make the post-work future meaningful and more human. However, the transition will be challenging for all concerned.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
The authors are from Fast Future which publishes books from future thinkers around the world exploring how developments such as AI, robotics and disruptive thinking could impact individuals, society and business and create new trillion-dollar sectors. Fast Future has a particular focus on ensuring these advances are harnessed to unleash individual potential and enable a very human future. See: www.fastfuture.com
Rohit Talwar is a global futurist, keynote speaker, author, and CEO of Fast Future where he helps clients develop and deliver transformative visions of the future. He is the editor and contributing author for The Future of Business, editor of Technology vs. Humanity and co-editor of a forthcoming book on The Future of AI in Business.
Alexandra Whittington is a futurist, writer, faculty member on the Futures programme at the University of Houston and foresight director at Fast Future. She is a contributor to The Future of Business and a co-editor for forthcoming books on Unleashing Human Potential — The Future of AI in Business and 50:50 — Scenarios for the Next 50 Years.