Based on a series of interviews

The world around us is transforming dramatically. Both the quality and the speed of change are frightening. Some call it the arrival of the 4th Industrial Revolution. I call it the arrival of the fifth wave.

Historically, the world went through four waves: Agriculture, Industry, Service, and Information. Currently, we are in the midst of a fifth wave: the wave of Artificial Intelligence and Innovation.

Let’s dip into history to understand what changed the world. The first was the steam engine. It changed how we traveled. Next came the computers. It changed how we computed.  Worse still, it underwent rapid metamorphosis. Once upon a time, the IBM’s supercomputer occupied an entire room. Today, people think, “Why to go to IBM when we can bring 1000 small laptops and see that the same functions are done.”

Automation will create more jobs

The fear many today have is the marauding influence of technology and the possibility that machines may replace men in many of the work. But as some point out, this is not a challenge but an opportunity. Remember cost reduction, as an idea is three centuries old. Robots can only replace jobs that do not require critical thinking.

I think automation will create more jobs than it would destroy. Take ATM. When ATMs first came, bankers went on strike, arguing that their jobs were at stake. ATMs have now increased, but no banker lost his job. In fact, we have more guys working in banks. Thanks to ATM banks have become more efficient and have reached unreached places. Today, if you talk to a banker, once the transaction is over, he will try to sell you a deposit or a mutual fund. His job has shifted from clerical work to more the demanding sales task, and he gets paid more. What will happen is that the roles are going to become more cognitively demanding.

With artificial intelligence, voluminous data, and massive computing power, we can build algorithm where this data keeps running, and the learning process can go 24*7, this machine will get smarter from the information it has learned. In 1981, Ray Kurzweil in his book ‘Age of spiritual thinking machines’ said that by 2050, you would be a sitting next to a person without realizing that it is a robot. He predicted a jacket that will tell you when you go out to carry an umbrella because ‘it is going to rain today, why don’t you take an umbrella.’

The arrival of micro-innovation

Amazon is an example of micro-innovation. Years ago, in the US, mail order business was a favorite. People saw the catalog, selected an item, ordered it on the phone, and paid by cheque. When the product arrived, if they didn’t like it they went to the post office to return.  Many returns happened as people found that how the product appeared in the catalog (in a small image) was different from how it finally looked. Then E-commerce arrived, and a man called Jeff Bezos turned up. Bezos realized that the Internet could replace mail order. He founded Amazon, and it changed the way we shop.

The most prominent example of unutilized infrastructure is Uber. That is what they did: the cars were standing, the drivers were waiting, and suddenly there came Uber. You will see a lot of economical housing coming in. E-mail, Internet, the phone, Skype, Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube all of these are aiding businesses.

Today, people seek ‘experience’ in the workplace: a physical experience like food-court, fitness center, and indoor games. An aspirational experience such as “am I doing something intellectually stimulating,” “can I work from any place, at any time, seamlessly,” are driving forces.

The workforce is becoming ageless. People with no experience working with people whose experience is more than the age of freshman.

Be curious; ask insightful questions, communicate to influence, make sense of data; problem-solving not through knowledge but learning; be open to continuous learning and play in teams. We need people with analytical and solution finding skills. They must know to ask the right questions and identify the correct answers. Example: Nepal faced high infant mortality in its villages because there was no transportation to move newborns to city hospitals on time. Someone suggested having incubators as a solution. It didn’t solve the situation because the villages did not have electricity! Finally, a crack team identified that the problem lay in removing the baby from the womb. It reduced IMR by 70%. They knew not only to ask the right questions but figure out the correct answers as well.

Enter Artificial Intelligence

And before we know it, artificial intelligence is on us. Today when you upload a photo on Facebook, Facebook automatically tags to your friend. When we buy on Amazon, Amazon makes recommendations based on your buying pattern. That’s AI or IoT at work. The shift had taken just three years.

The historical shift has been from manufacturing (remember Tata Steel once ruled the roost) to distribution (HUL) to Technology (MS) to now any organization that is customer-centric.  When you have a customer who knows what he wants, and who wants it now, you have to digitize. Search engine democratized knowledge. AI is now democratizing the expertise that is available in the market.

In a fully automated factory, everything will happen on autopilot. You will only need one man and a dog. Their purpose is simple: the dog is there not to allow anybody inside the factory and the man is there to take care of the dog!

Amazon, although initially a bookstore in cyberspace, is now married to the cloud. Amazon Web Services offers reliable, scalable, and inexpensive cloud computing services with which it is rewriting the rules of the game. It has had made infrastructure services available as on-demand services where you pay for use as you do with your electricity.

The ‘everywhere office,’ the changing nature of the workforce, the composition of the workforce, and the importance of data are four essential patterns.

The everywhere office: Today, every location is an office. An employee worked from a hospital for six months because his wife was unwell. The Philippines has put a new rule in place that 5% of your workforce should be working from home.

The changing workforce: 75% of the workforce in the US would be millennial by 2025. In India, by the way, by 2020 or 2022 we will have these numbers achieved.

Today, people pride in saying, “I work with Google.” People are cagey about saying, “I am a freelancer.” Tomorrow is going to be different. Millennial do not want permanent jobs. Contract work is okay with them. They don’t want to be doctors or engineers; they have their choices are forceful in making it. They are not just interested in making a car; they are interested in how can I make an impact in the society. That feeling must be harnessed.

Cloud computing is an IT model for enabling access to shared pools of resources such as networks, servers, storage, applications. It allows users to store and process data on owned or third-party servers. Third-party clouds enable organizations to focus on their core businesses instead of expending resources on computer maintenance. You can get your applications up and run faster, with improved manageability and less support.

The power of the network

In the future, big companies will focus on profits and market; responsible companies will be socially conscious in what they do, and there will be smaller companies with high tech models that ensure maximum flexibility and minimum cost.

The power of network has become impressive with the advent of social media and organizations are investing in it. The access to information has changed. We talk about co-creating in teams. People have to be flexible and entrepreneurial.

The industry is pumping a lot of money into AI. We aren’t far away from machine intelligence overtaking human knowledge.  Today, computers are diagnosing better than doctors. Sometimes knowledge needs to be broad, and sometimes it needs to be profound to solve complex problems. Enter cognitive flexibility.  Cognitive flexibility is the ability to switch between thinking about two different concepts and to think about multiple ideas simultaneously. If you learned Java, you could not say, “I will work only in Java.” That’s lack of service orientation.

While how much we can automate depends on the industry, a thumb rule says that 60% of all occupations have 30% of tasks that can be automated.











About Pattabhi Ram

A chartered accountant by profession, a writer by passion and a teacher by accidental choice.
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