Digital Transformation, Hyperautomation, Remote Working, E-Commerce and The Future of Work
2021 has been a very tough year for many. From the disruptions of the coronavirus pandemic to human life, to health & wellness, economic stability, to rising climate change risks and wildfires, socioeconomic inequalities, political incompetence in the US and many governments, humanity is facing tremendous upheaval from all fronts simultaneously. We are facing multiple crises every minute seemingly nowadays, and we are realising how interconnected and fragile we as humans and the systems and institutions that bind us are.
We are getting extremely exhausted already after the US election also. But beyond this year and the day to day news cycles or the previous election, there are major systemic changes coming to our way of life, our institutions, how we work, how we live and how we earn a living also that I think are very important to pay attention to. I expect not only 2020, but the following decade (even though every day now seems like an entire week), to be increasingly disruptive on several fronts. I want to talk about the Future of Work because it binds together a few components and although none of us can fully prepare for it, we can understand the nature of changes and try to adapt and be more preemptive and proactive in our responses the upcoming weeks, months and years, in our attitudes, our mindsets and our actions because these changes are not only here to stay but many of them will upend many notions of the past as we pivot into a brave new world and radical future marked by both good (change, optimism, excitement, novelty) as well as bad (change, pessimism, fear, disruption).
Digital Transformation, Information Technology and Hyperautomation
Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic, many corporations and consumers are adopting, investing in or using automation and digital technologies such as Cloud Computing, Artificial Intelligence, SaaS (Software-as-a-Service), and ICT (Information Communication Technology) Devices (Laptops, Smartphones, Tablets, Smart Devices) as our collective internet usage is exploding during the pandemic and era of remote work, communication and collaboration.
Investment and usage in these digital technologies were already increasing at an accelerated rate this past decade but were turbocharged this year by both consumers and companies as both look for ways during the pandemic for increased worker safety and increased productivity and efficiency and agile business models. In fact, Enterprises have accelerated digital transformation by 10 years or 1 decade compressed in the last 1-2 years because of Covid19. Because of this rapid growth in digitalization and our increased reliance on digital technology, enterprise software, hardware, etc. during this period, IT spend is projected to hit $4 Trillion in 2021.
Futurists, Technologists, Business Leaders and Philosophers have long been talking about technology and the impacts it is having on work, on the economy and the future of jobs. That future has come much closer and has arrived to the present after the covid19 pandemic turbocharged and greatly accelerated the trends that were already taking place in IT, Automation, Artificial Intelligence and Remote Working. In fact, Silicon Valley isn’t the only hub for technology and tech entrepreneurship anymore in today’s post-covid world. Covid19 really emphasized two key megatrends: globalization and digitalization as well as the power of ubiquitous internet, connectivity and remote working. Since anyone can work from anywhere and enjoy the quality of life and work with remote working for the most part, innovation and entrepreneurship can happen from anywhere now from your bedroom to your beachhouse. And E-Commerce and digital businesses and digital business models will crush traditional brands, companies, industries and businesses that are more physical and linear in nature. Digital businesses are able to pivot, shift, adapt and improve at a rate far faster (exponentially) than physical businesses which move more linearly.
Jack Ma, the Founder of China E-Commerce Giant Alibaba has said that our education system has become antiquated in the digital age because it doesn’t teach independent thinking and many students who view school like a curriculum view their entire lives as a curriculum. And that’s a massive problem because while that may have worked in the 20th century factory age, it doesn’t work in 21st century digital age where business moves alot quicker and where we have constant technological disruption. The problem is people who stop learning and stop thinking for themselves will have a lot of trouble navigating in a world that changes faster and faster.
Furthermore in a world of increasing disruptive innovation and automation, the highest performers will always be those who can synthesize information across different domains and then apply them accordingly and who can build better mental models. Seeing what others miss, connecting those dots faster and faster, and cutting out the noise that is irrelevant is increasingly important and valuable in a world of increasing information overload and anxiety about the future. This is why the next generation of entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk who anticipate these transitions and know how to properly coordinate people and capital with the right technologies along with the correct vision, mission and purpose will always succeed in this environment of hyperchange. Its also why entrepreneurship and creative skills will become very highly valuable for creating wealth in the coming decades and even over most regular 9-5 jobs (which are more repetitive and susceptible to automation). Tech entrepreneurs and creatives who can leverage the power of the internet and of information technologies at massive scale and stay nimble and agile will be successful because they will have the ability to constantly learn, pivot, grow and problem-solve and creativity and entrepreneurship will be the hardest skills to automate because of the human ingenuity involved. Many rote, repetitive and calculated tasks can easily be automated and are subject to job displacement and automation.
We now have a sort of one-click (Appified, Gigified) economy and society for better and worse as things are very very convenient online for the most part and transitioning between entertainment, media, social media, communications, work, etc. are easier than ever because of the digital technologies available today.
The negative side of these technologies however is that many old jobs, companies or even industries will not come back and we are seeing greater consolidation and survival of the fittest. Generally the IT industry and the service industry is doing really well right now as it supplies much of the hardware or software services that enable the digital economy upon which we are relying and traditional retailers are struggling.
However front-line workers are also struggling both with having to be on-premise and risking their health and safety and with added risk of automation. Much is being invested right now in accelerating artificial intelligence for the application of automating jobs such as truck drivers and store clerks by the threat of autonomous vehicles and self-checkout machines. But its not just blue collar workers that are under threat by the 4th industrial revolution and advances in digital technologies such as AI, in fact even white collar workers are under threat including programmers as I will get to later. The other problem is that many of the businesses or sectors that failed to digitally transform before the pandemic have been crushed in the form of bankruptcies. And the businesses or sectors that were already digitally transformed are thriving such as the massive tech giants like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Facebook and Nvidia. But the middle is struggling and in between as they must quickly adapt or die under intensifying pressure in the middle of a coronavirus pandemic, economic uncertainty and increasing digital transformation. Nvidia is a great example of a company that is thriving during the coronavirus pandemic as it has a heavy focus on driving digital transformation, accelerating the future of computing and betting big on artificial intelligence.
Now the problem is that upward mobility and even jobs in the service industry including many current high-paying IT jobs such as computer programmers are increasingly and ironically at risk of job displacement, disruption and delocation. This is a more severe risk of job disruption and automation because it brings into question about the jobs of the future, job mobility and the high paying jobs as well as questions about hyperautomation of almost any job. Because if computer programming were to become automated or the automaters so to speak were to become automated than that would be a checkmate (currently) on the jobs and the value chains where work is shifting.
Since most investment is moving into IT and automation jobs the question is what jobs will be left. And the other question is what will the quantity and quality of those jobs be, what will the income redistribution look like to workers from massive automated IT companies? I forgot to finish the point I was making! Artificial Intelligence is now advancing from more of narrow applications to generalized applications. There have been advances in deep learning such as with the GPT3 language model from OpenAI, low code platforms and RPA (Robotic Process Automation) from UiPath. The problem with all these convenient tools is that they are increasingly encroaching on what’s left of possible human work in the traditional economy. Now I am optimistic, that with a host of exponential technologies and hyperinnovation we will create a world of abundance however I am skeptical of the value capture of this abundance, the redistribution of it and whether the exponential growth in digital technologies will create more jobs than it displaces. Automation is a very serious problem currently as we have limited time to deal with both a pandemic, and the economic dislocation from that as well as the retraining or upskilling needed to adapt to rapidly shifting value chains.
The value chains of our economy are transitioning at a speed that is unprecedented particularly as covid, and hyperautomation fuel our digital economy. We are left dealing with the speculation of what these technologies will look like, how far they will advance, what jobs or industries they will create and what jobs or industries they will disrupt not just now but in the future. It’s harder to forecast what the farther future looks like in terms of the economic or technological outlook and in fact it might be easier to backcast what the near future looks like based on how we think science fiction might look like. Since much of these digital technologies are becoming overwhelmingly sophisticated and powerful. Many of the technology executives or investors do not fully understand the extent of the creative destruction they are creating which does worry me a bit.
2. Remote Working, Internet of Things
On a more positive note, remote working is becoming mainstream as corporations expand their options, many agile startups were already remote but are now even more flexible and there are more options of gig work now than ever.
Asynchronous and agile forms of remote working and remote collaboration are only here to stay and are far better than commuting or being locked down in a 9–5. The future of work is here and it is no longer to be locked down to one employer in the same office for the rest of your life, and younger generations such as Millennials and Gen Z don’t like that paradigm anyways as they want more freedom, and room to travel, explore, grow and experiment with their work and careers to match their lifestyles rather than the other way around. And in the age where routine work is being automated faster than ever because of advances in technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, open-source, office space and traditional 9–5s are out of favor for increasing digital transformation and convenience for our on-demand lifestyles, this just makes sense.
Now remote work is not nearly perfect and there are upsides such as better mental health, less commute and downsides such as more social isolation, more screentime, and more usage of annoying apps, and technologies. However I am confident that we will get more and more convenience here as well, more interesting ways of work, and more interesting types of work as UI, UX options get better from Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality to easier to use applications and payment options.
For example, Medium is an example of an interesting application and although the pay is not the best and saturation is pretty high on the platform, it’s almost like the early stages of a new type of economy where workers get to input their creativity and get paid for their output more and more conveniently and directly. I sense this is where our economy and the future platforms are heading more and more toward. Think of the older technology platforms that brought about interesting ways of working and communicating but now also increasingly integrated with payments, better UI/UX options, etc.
I am excited for this aspect of the digital economy and believe it will grow as the coronavirus rages on and people retreat indoors for the next several months and few years even. Now even after the coronavirus goes away, the new ways of working, earning and living will be here to stay for several years, because of added convenience to consumers, employees and companies of not worrying about physical office space (I believe most office spaces are dead and that cities and commercial real estate will have a very tough time the next few years and perhaps even decade but I maybe wrong). However, that being said flexible office spaces such as the WeWork coworking model may make a comeback in the post-covid world. And I do think that there will be room for hybrid models also of going to the office sometimes and working from home other times. I just think that 9-5s and jobs that are full-time in office are going away because of remote and hybrid options as well as because of automation.
I just think that as we have more and more digital ways of working our economy will be more and more digitally transformed and yes this may sound a bit dystopian like a Ready Player One type of movie but it is also convenient and cool. Hopefully we can make good money though and not just be extracted from the dominating digital apps and tech companies.
3. Financial Crisis, UBI, Monetary Policy, Inflation, and Digital Currencies
Please check out a previous article I wrote on my thoughts of an upcoming financial overhaul, universal basic income, monetary policy changes, potential inflation and transition toward digital currencies such as Bitcoin or Central Banking Digital Currencies (CBDCs).
4. Exponential Technologies and 6Ds of Exponentials
Please check out what Peter Diamandis, a renowned futurist and Founder of Singularity University has to say about Exponential Technologies and the 6Ds of Exponentials for a full-view picture of the transformation that we are going through and the threats to incumbents, laggards as well as the opportunities to the trailblazers and disruptive entrepreneurs and companies.