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Technology as a force for good in the workforce
18 October 2018 |
The event centre at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas is buzzing with at least 12,000 people, all here to hear CEO Pat Gelsinger’s keynote speech at VMWorld 2018. With such a huge atmosphere, complete with DJ, you’d think you’d walked into a nightclub, if it wasn’t for the fact it’s 8.30 in the morning.
There are around 25,000 people here in total for the event. After his keynote speech, Gelsinger tells me most of them are here for the hands-on labs and training. “Do you think they’re coming here for my keynote?” he laughs. “They are coming to get certified on our latest products, so they get to go home to their jobs and add another certification to our resumes. That is why so many people come here.”
Technology is undoubtedly changing business processes and practices and the way people work, and Gelsinger sees it as a force for good, as opposed to taking a dystopian view about the changes we will see in the workforce. In his keynote speech he points out that technology in itself is neutral, neither good or bad, and it is up to us to make sure we use it for something positive in the workforce.
“There is a McKinsey report recently where they talk about the loss of 500 million jobs in the age of AI and machine learning and the creation of 600 million jobs in the age of AI and machine learning,” he says. “If you are an optimist you say 600 million, if you are a pessimist you say 500 million.”
Technological change creating new jobs
Ray O’Farrell, CTO of VMWare, agrees with Gelsinger that these technological changes will be for the better. He explains that if you look at the technologies that have been introduced over the years and how they have impacted what people do, new jobs have always emerged.
“If you think of the amount of email and the amount of documents you write yourself,” he says. “In the past a large company would have had a bunch of people in a room somewhere typing up those documents. Now they don’t do that.
“What I see is not so much jobs disappearing [but] shifting – for the most part from a productivity point of view into something higher, something more productive, something greater in that mix.”
Gelsinger thinks the key is to ensure that workforces are properly retrained, and that the old educational norms we take for granted need to be shaken up. “You need to be reskilled three or four times over the course of your career,” he says. “You go to high school, you go to college, you learn a career, you do that for 30 years – that is over because you are going to need to be retrained three or four times in the course of your lifespan. This is a very different educational model.”
One emerging technology which is already changing the workforce is edge computing, says Chris Wolf, VMWare’s CTO, global field and industry. Edge computing works by analysing data in devices itself, rather than sending it to the cloud. It is already being used in the medical industry, enabling doctors to gain more accurate diagnostics.
“We are already seeing this with X-rays and radiology, where a person does not have to go and look at an X-ray to confirm a broken bone,” he says. “This is good – some people can say, well, it has taken the humans out of the equation, but if we can improve the quality of healthcare and make it more reliable then that it is positive. If you take some of the burden from doctors doing some of the mundane work then that is good too.
“In some ways it is changing the skillsets of people, because we are putting more intelligence into the technology.”
Demand for data scientists
Wolf sees a growing demand in the field of data science, which is where he sees the next hotspot of talent and innovation emerging. “They are the ones that are trying to interpret the data and make adjustments to automation based on what they are trying to mine out of the data too,” he says.
“Companies definitely see machine learning, influencing technologies and data driven decision making as a new way of creating a competitive advantage. It is a new way of being able to create intimacy with customers, and because of that there is a massive demand.”
Wolf isn’t joking – any company not employing data scientists in five years time will probably be out of business, he says.
But this won’t be the kind of revolution so transformative that it leaves dead companies in its wake – many things will remain the same for the most part, says O’Farrell. Even when people are connected with new ways of telecommunications, he points out, they still have to work together and as groups. Indeed, he says, more and more we are seeing big projects being handled by communities of people, such as with the success of open-source software.
And, at the end of the day, human beings will still remain at the centre after the technological revolution. “No matter what happens in the advancement of technology, successful engineers and technologists have to be in a position to be able to say ‘I need work as part of the community,’” he says.