Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford

How Humans Can Win Against Machines in the Workplace of the Future?

Having in mind the fact that many more occupations are at risk of computerisation, and the sense that the technology is still no substitute for perception, creativity and social skills, we have to consider activities in the direction of having the workers of the future becoming “more human” in order to compete with technology that will increasingly challenge human labour. This refers to both cognitive and manual tasks.

We will have to redefine our measures of “productivity” and “work” if we are not to collapse under the pressures of infinite devices and infinite data vying for our finite time and attention.

These are the main conclusions of the 14th Silicon Valley Comes to Oxford event, held from 17th to 18th May 2015, in Oxford, UK. The impacts and challenges of augmented humanity on the workplace and employment in the future were main topic of discussion.

‘Computers were initially used to carry out routine tasks involving explicit rule-based activities, which tended to be viewed as freeing people from mundane and repetitive work,’ says Michael Osborne, Associate Professor, University of Oxford, and Co-Director, Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment, who has presented his speech at the sessionTechnology at Work: The Future of Employment.

‘But big data means that algorithms from Machine Learning can now easily substitute for labour in a much wider range of non-routine tasks, from legal writing to truck-driving. In addition, advanced robots are gaining enhanced senses and dexterity, allowing them to perform more complex manual tasks.’

Professor Osborne spoke about his research predicting the jobs and occupations at risk from computerisation in the future, and about the new jobs and emerging industries that are likely to replace them. Fraud detection, legal research, healthcare diagnostics, telemarketing and reception duties are all at risk, he states, while wind energy engineers, solar energy installation managers, nanotechnology engineers, and informatics nurse specialists are likely to be in demand (as well as Zumba instructors and beach body coaches.)

‘Tasks that are non-susceptible to computerisation require creative and social intelligence,’ he continues. ‘For workers to win the race against technology, therefore, they will have to acquire creative and social skills – forcing a revaluation of our attitudes to education and development.’

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer for Microsoft UK, had presented the speech on The Rise of the Humans: How to Outsmart the Digital Deluge. He thinks that, while the computerisation of routine tasks was meant to free up our time for leisure and for more complex and interesting work, the opposite has happened. We are drowning in a “deluge of data” that can keep us from doing meaningful, real work. In addition, our obsession with “productivity” and the “rate of output” means that ‘in a world defined by its processes and not its outcomes, working smarter is not an option and the only feasible alternative is simply to work harder.’

Phil Libin, CEO of Evernote disagreed with his as he believes that companies need to keep up with the tools and technologies that result in a more productive, efficient and plugged-in work force. He spoke about how A.I. (or Augmented Intelligence) technology, and how can this ensure employees feel plugged in and connected, whether they’re in a start-up or larger organisation.

Professor Osborne joined Professor Nick Bostrom, Director, Future of Humanity Institute, to discuss What do humanity’s technological advancements really mean for us and should we be worried?

Professor Bostrom’s 2014 book, Superintelligence, suggests how we might prepare for the time when machines’ intelligence far exceeds that of humans. Will they ever be able to match the depth and breadth of human perception, or respond to the subtle social signals needed for effective persuasion, negotiation, comfort and care?

If you would have an opinion of yourself, we would really love to hear it.