In The Future Will We Be Working For An Algorithm?

Author

Allison, Scott

September 12, 2013

One of the best panels I attended at last month’s SXSW V2V was titled the “Future of Work: Evolve or go Extinct”. SXSW did a fantastic job and assembled an outstanding panel, and there were some really awesome quotes which I’ve shared below, along with some of my thoughts.

Companies are less committed to commitment – Gene Zaino, MBO Partners

Large companies would rather not take risk and fixed costs of long-term employees, but instead would rather now dice up the work into small packets and complete on a project basis. With the emergence of cognitive computing, the nightmare scenario is that a computer alone dishes out the work, and indeed a lot of that work could go to other computers for completion.

It sounds great for companies, more agility and flexibility and a real challenge to the traditional notion of what a company structure looks like. So companies benefit from reduction in fixed costs of employment, but what about for the worker?

It almost sounds like a return to the early industrial revolution factories where the majority of your labour is replaceable and expendable. Will companies just have a small core of highly prized knowledge workers, with full benefits and perks, and the rest are in an uncertain world of self-employed contractors?

Companies are a technology to get things done, but now technology has enabled a new way to get things done – Devin Fidler, Institute for the Future

IT makes it easier than ever to slice and dice work into small pieces, and have that done anywhere in the world. It used to be the case companies had to take on permanent employees and put them in the same building. Now with modern telecoms, internet and tools like oDesk or Staff.com you can be a whole lot more flexible about where your workforce is and what type of work they are doing for you. It means a future where companies have a small core staff doing strategic work (where cultural alignment will be key), leading the remote and flexible workforce who are summoned electronically to do piece work. But what does it mean for workers?

Our children’s generation will have ten jobs by the time they’re 40 – Gary Swart, oDesk

We all know the nature of work has changed, our grandfather had one job for his whole life, our father maybe had a handful and our generation is already used to a career filled with multiple jobs. But in the future, are people even going to have jobs as we know them today? We may even juggling multiple jobs at the same time! So what skills will you need to succeed in the future?

The winners are those who can learn fast, have a strong network and the best online reputation – R “Ray” Wang, Constellation Research

We all know a job-for-life is a relic of a bygone era, but I don’t fancy being one of the low-level drones working as a self-employed project worker reporting to an algorithm! For those at the top of the tree, the future is a bit brighter:

The best talent will have even more options in this new economy – Maynard Webb: entrepreneur, author, investor & company director

Employees have changed their outlook as well, the importance of monetary reward has decreased and instead we’re focused more on personal growth, recognition, access, influence, work/life balance and impact.

So yes, the future of work is changing, but I hope it’s still principally about human interaction. The good news is that a prediction by the CEO of oDesk (a leader in online project work) even in 20 years time it will only be 5% of the workforce who will be engaged remotely and online.

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