How technologies will expand and replace human work


The Australian Financial Review is today running a special feature on the world to 2100, including an article on technology trends titled Connecting to a rising tide of data.

The article covers a number of themes, including the expansion of connectivity, data, and devices, and the impact of technology on healthcare, drawing on interviews with a wide range of experts including Australian of the Year Dr Fiona Wood.

It begins by quoting me on the impact of technology on the world of work.

Experts agree the business world of 2100 will be a radically different place, but the pace of technological change makes predicting those differences a difficult task.

Australian futurist Ross Dawson says studying the technological trends happening now allows reasonable insights into what conditions will be like for about the next decade. Beyond that, however, uncertainty levels quickly increase.

“One of the most transformative forces at work will continue to be connectivity,” says Dawson. “You only have to look back at the impact of technologies such as the telephone and the internet on business and work. Future connectivity will extend far beyond this.”

Dawson says another mega-trend that will emerge during the coming decades will be the application of computing power to human cognitive tasks. Many jobs that today are done by people will be replaced by sophisticated software programs and ­algorithms.

“This trend really started in the industrial revolution where machines replaced labour,” he says. “Now a large proportion of value is being created in knowledge work areas and this is where computers will move from being complementary tools to actually doing the entire job. This will have a ­dramatic impact on business and on humanity.”

As I note, uncertainty in the development and application of technology increases significantly as you look further out.

However we can be sure that technology’s impact on work will be dramatic and transformative in years to come.

Individuals, companies, and governments all need to be thinking long and hard about how this may be play out and the impliications.