Onward ever onward

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Written by Barry Johnson on 16 April 2018

I suppose things come along in this advancing world of ours that triggers our interest. When this happens, I tend to listen and read experts and politicians. This thing that I have noticed is the experts hedge their bets and politicians are often quite clear and direct and usually wrong in the longer term.

One particular party usually seems to emphasis the negatives. Please note how carefully I phased that. I suppose it is about their timespan of discretion. Professor Elliott Jaques had a controversial insight. He noticed that workers at different levels of the company had very different time horizons.

Line workers focused on tasks that could be completed in a single shift, while managers devoted their energies to tasks requiring six months or more to complete. Meanwhile, their CEO was pursuing goals realizable only over the span of several years. For my sins I used that idea in people analysis in my development roles and it seemed valid.

Beyond net task creation, there are other reasons to be optimistic about the impact of AI and automation.

Okay, where is this going?

I also have become interested in The Fourth Industrial Revolution - after all we will live though it. I suppose my interest stemmed from the ‘O’ Level I took at school in Social and Economic History and I have been following it ever since. Industrial law, social security, etc.

I have tracked the two agricultural revolutions and the three industrial revolutions. It is interesting to note the negative reception they got.

The loss of jobs that turned out to generate different jobs, the initial loss of wages and skills and then the positive shifts in wages, and social advance ranging from social conditions, education, health and the growth in gross domestic product, and so on. I’m so glad I did not faff around with the history of kings and queens.


Oh yes - the Fourth Industrial Revolution and artificial intelligence. AI research is making good progress and will have a growing impact on society. You probably use Google and a mobile phone and know Apple, Facebook and Tesla are making revolutionary changes to how we interact with the technology, but many of us are still clueless about how AI is being used today.

We do read however, of widespread job losses. The Future of Employment estimates that 6% of all US jobs are at risk (9m) by 2021. Despite these fears, all the revolutions have ended up creating more jobs than were destroyed.

Technology tasks that are automated, becoming cheaper and faster. Not the word tasks. Production and services change. We end up needing more human workers to do the other tasks in the processes that haven’t been automated. Beyond net task creation, there are other reasons to be optimistic about the impact of AI and automation.

As humans, we climb the rungs out of drudgery towards the top of the food chain. AI is coming, let’s welcome it.


About the author

Barry Johnson BA, CMCIPD, MCMI, is a non-executive director at Learning Partners Ltd

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