The suspicion that technological advancement is something to be feared has been immortalised on film many times. From James Cameron’s scarily sentient Skynet in The Terminator series, to Will Smith’s one man stand against a hoard of rebellious automatons in I, Robot, Hollywood is full of examples of mankind’s own innovations rising up against their creators.
Unruly robots makes good cinema, but to what extent is the concern that technology poses a threat to us reflected in reality? It might not be a fear for our lives, but there’s certainly a growing anxiety that intelligent technologies are rapidly becoming able to do our jobs better than we can.
In their 2018 Workforce of the Future report, PwC found that 37 percent of workers are worried about the long-term fortunes of their employment due to automation. Even data is loaded in today’s world; the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the latest measure putting the onus on the privacy issues surrounding data, rather than what data can allow us to achieve. While no doubt necessary, data protections can be seen to carry an implication that digital information is potentially dangerous; something that can easily be used against us.
Throughout history, every significant technological change has resulted in a certain degree of trepidation, but does this always have to be the case? Can we change our perception and see digitization as an opportunity, rather than a threat?
Automation and the difference between ‘jobs’ and ‘tasks’
There’s no denying that intelligent technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and robotics, are revolutionising the way we approach a huge range of both blue and white collar commercial enterprises. In the construction industry, Semi-Automated Masons can lay up to 3,000 bricks a day, while recruiters are using an AI-powered assistant called Mya to pre-screen candidates via a chatbot.
These technologies are capable of more than a human in less time, won’t tire or make a mistake, but their remits are narrow. On the whole, developers are designing automated applications to master a singular and very specific task, like laying bricks, without deviation. Even where an application gets smarter the more it does - such as the AI marketing platform, Albert – its learning capacity focuses on a number of useful, yet limited, tasks, rather than enabling it to turn its hand to anything we might ask of it.
Recognising these ‘tasks’ is important. While we might perform a multitude of tasks as part of our work every day, there’s far more that contributes to a ‘job’, a profession and a career. The real substance of our roles consists of judgment calls, communication and negotiation – the interpersonal, and very human, skills no application can hope to replicate.
The value of humanity in business
Embracing our human dexterities is key to reframing the debate on digitization. When we realise that so much of the value we bring to business lies in our ability to problem-solve, innovate and empathise, digitization no longer presents a threat. The old adage that business is built on relationships is still true, and it takes humans to do the building.
In fact, far from making us redundant, intelligent technologies can free us from the repetitive, administrative tasks that monopolise so much of our professional time, allowing us to focus on the creative, strategic and emotional aspects of our work. Applications can actually empower us to push ourselves and our businesses forward, taking the strain on laborious tasks and giving us the opportunity to hone our commercial, social and cultural insight.
Just as we wouldn’t now dream of shunning our smartphones and computers in favour of going back to the typewriter, automated technologies may become a facilitator of business we simply cannot do without.
Evolving our skills in an age of digitization
So, if we recognise that it’s our human skills that set us apart from the mechanical productivity of intelligent technologies, how can we refine these skills to be as sharp as possible? Self-development is undoubtedly a lifelong exercise, but the right tutelage can enable us to learn techniques and practices that prioritize personal progression throughout our careers.
There’s so much more than management expertise to be gained from today’s business education; a programme of study should combine cutting-edge commercial knowledge, world-class networking and a strong emphasis on professional development. As digitization continues to change the global business landscape, education of the future will help us foster and work towards ever-evolving leadership skills, creativity, innovation, empathy and social awareness. These skills are what will keep us at the forefront of business, and digitization can help us achieve greater progress by giving us more time and space for personal growth.
The digital world can even grant us a platform to seize learning in way that complements how we live. An Online MBA can offer all the powerful educational impact we need without the need to relocate or pause our careers, as well as a framework through which to build on our innate instinct for business.
Far from presenting a threat to our success, a change in mindset can help us realise that digitization has an important role to play in making us better, and ultimately more human, business leaders.