Download: Technology And The Nature Of Work
The nature of work has always been fluid over the centuries. Always dynamic and always evolving. The determinants of change in the fields of work are wide and varied, ranging from bureaucratic influences, to technological advancement.
Technology, however, has been the largest force shaping the world of work in human history. Technology allows for developments in ever-unprecedented ways. With each major wave of technological advancement, the influence of technology on the work landscape has always been exponential.
Technology has shaped every facet of human endeavour, starting with crude tools in prehistoric times, that shaped all aspects of human existence. Tools allowed humanity then, to improve productivity, and multiply crop yield to sustain bigger populations.
There have been many defining technological improvements in human history, but only a select few can be said to be transformative in a fundamental way. These technologies are:
Whilst the list of technologies shaping humanity’s modern world of work are numerous, I would like to explore the impact of Remote Work, Virtual Reality along with Augmented Reality, and Artificial Intelligence, on the nature of work.
Remote work is an old concept that has been around for a long time, and only gaining unprecedented traction around 2020, after the Covid 19 Pandemic. It should be said that, even before then, remote work was the norm for a lot of creatives, such as developers like myself, and the pandemic only normalised it for everybody else.
What does remote work actually mean? Remote work is the practice of employees doing their jobs from a location other than a central office, under the supervision of an employer. Examples of such locations include: an employee’s home, a co-working or other shared space, or a private office. Any other place outside of the traditional corporate office building or campus also qualifies.
Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic normalised remote work, as it was difficult to report to the office during this devastating period in human history, it was the state of technology through the Internet, and the many web and mobile applications, that ultimately made this possible.
These applications enabled people to communicate and collaborate online at very minimal cost. It is important to note that, the level to which remote work has been adopted is, to a large extent, determined by the level of development.
Remote work has taken off in a big way in highly industrialised countries, whilst developing nations have seen this trend to a lesser extent. I however project that the developing nations will soon follow this trend in a very big way.
Remote work can be thought of as a decentralised form of work. Not only is it practical, but it is also highly cost effective. Employers can cut down on costs normally associated with running big offices, whilst employees can save on transport costs, and not to mention saving on time associated with the daily commute to and from work.
There are of course some negatives that come with adopting remote work, such as increased social isolation, higher occurrence of burnout, the development of unhealthy habits, and not everyone is a fan of remote work. The good news however, is that these negatives can be effectively managed and the good far outweighs the bad.
If you pay attention to tech news of late, you might have been aware of the term “The Metaverse” being thrown around. The Metaverse is a vision of what many in the computer industry believe is the future of the Internet: a single, shared, immersive, persistent, 3D virtual space, providing humanity with new experiences not possible in the physical world.
It will be a while though, before the vision of the Metaverse is realised, but despite the current unsubstantiated hype, the concept of the Metaverse is driven by two primary technological concepts of Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality, which have some practical applications right now.
Virtual Reality, or VR, is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment, which can be explored in 3-Dimensions. Unlike traditional interfaces, VR places the user inside the virtual environment, offering them an immersive experience.
Augmented reality, or AR, on the other hand, is an interactive experience that enhances the real world with computer-generated perceptual information. Using software, apps, and hardware such as AR glasses, augmented reality overlays digital content onto real-life environments and objects.
These are powerful technologies that will revolutionise the way we work. They will allow us to interact in new and exciting ways, across boundaries of space and distance, heralding new ways of collaborating and sharing work spaces.
Artificial intelligence, or AI, is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines: computer systems in particular. Specific applications of AI include expert systems, natural language processing, speech recognition and machine vision.
This is the latest and greatest yet, on the arc of technological development for humanity. It is a new paradigm in how machines are developed. Instead of programming machines with specific instructions, the AI paradigm takes the approach of having machines learn to “think” like humans and act in complex ways, by learning from massive data sets, and intelligently respond to similar and emerging problems.
AI is being used in a wide range of industries from e-commerce to diagnostic medicine. Examples of these applications are chatbots responding to people’s queries, or machines able to interpret breast cancer scans with more accuracy than human doctors.
There are now even iterations of generative AI, such as Stable Diffusion, that are producing artworks that have human Artists worried of being replaced, and AI driven Content Generators that write with a quality on par with human writers.
The AI revolution is set to have numerous benefits for humanity, particularly in the field of work. On the one hand, AI takes over some repetitive tasks, so that their human counterparts can focus on the work that only humans can do, in complementary scenarios.
On the other hand, however, there are fears that Artificial Intelligence will take away jobs that are the livelihood for humans. Historically, technology has always taken away some jobs from people, but on the upside, it also created even more jobs.
There is however something different with the AI revolution. Whilst some experts believe that more jobs will be created, as has been the case historically, a significant number of experts believe that AI and automation will take away human jobs at an unprecedented rate, whilst offering increasingly lesser new jobs, which will ultimately cause huge losses of livelihood for humanity.
Our conditioning has made humanity define an individual’s worth through the work they do. For most of us, our job is a fundamental aspect of who we are, and if this is taken away, we may lose our sense of identity. This is a big concern for the future of work.
Regardless of whether you think your livelihood is at risk from the AI revolution or not, it cannot be denied that we are at a major juncture in the world of work. Under the unrelenting force of technological change, the world of work is changing, and it is changing fast.
When there is major change on the horizon, it is wise to brace for it. The best way to brace for the changes in the way we work, is arming yourself with knowledge. We are in the knowledge economy, and it is clear that those who will be able to adapt to change most effectively, will have the best outcomes in these unprecedented times of change.
The days of staying with the same employer and doing the same thing for years and years, are now numbered. Most of us will have to upskill and reskill many times over in our careers, in order to stay relevant in the workforce of the future. We will have to constantly acquire new skills in order to stay relevant. Ultimately, the best trait to survive any change is adaptability.
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