It wasn’t so long ago (2008), my then colleagues and I were standing around laughing heartily at The Flight of the Conchords and their Robot song. “It is the Year 2000! Robots rule the world” we chortled. Haha – that stuff never happened. Haha. Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve started noticing now that every day there is a new thing to get your head around and take seriously. But what about all the rubbish products that haven’t taken off, like Google Glass or Apple Watches? There’s a lot of junk out there. What’s it all for? Some say that we have reached saturation point with technology, peak oil and climate change and are now speeding towards hell in a rapidly shrinking (and heating) handcart. Others that we are on the crest of a technology wave and at no time in the history of humans have we had it so good.

On the potentially positive side, I learned a couple of weeks ago at the Work in Progress, Wellington’s New Collar Future conference, that we are at the ‘elbow’ of an exponential technological progress curve. If we handle it well we could potentially make the world a better place, but it looks like it will be a bumpy ride. I’m sure you clever people all know about Moore’s Law, but if like me, it was new to you, the simplified version of this law states that processor speeds, or overall processing power for computers will double every two years. What happens when anything doubles over and over?

I’ll let Kaila Colbin, a keynote speaker at the conference and NZ Ambassador for Singularity University, take up the story. The crux of her message and and those of other speakers (that I would seriously check out) such as Silvia Zuur, Sam Jarman and Bernard Hickey. Change will be beyond what we can imagine but we do need to use our imaginations to prepare and respond, adapt and thrive with our own and others’ humanity (and the planet) intact. Here are some terms to look out for, as they sure are going to impact if they aren’t already, and they have social, political and personal implications. These were just a few of my take-away questions in shorthand:

  1. Gig economy: How do we manage equity, diversity and ensure the workforce is protected from exploitation?
  2. Social entrepreneurism: Just a few idealistic hipsters or a new zeitgeist? Silvia Zuur for next PM?
  3. UBI: Universal Basic Income. Will the devil find work for idle hands or will creativity, innovation, inclusive community and social justice break out all over the place?
  4. Tech developments: Moving from products to services to user experiences. Being able to produce food in different ways – hydroponic and synthetic foods could be revolutionary in terms of actually feeding the planet. What will that mean for primary production? What happens when you take soil out of the food chain?
  5.  Blockchain technology: is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value. What does this mean for all the traditional organisations we have known, especially financial? Careers in finance?
  6. AI Artificial Intelligence and IA Intelligent Assistance  – Will robots take over my job or just make my job more awesome? Where’s the possibilities – in harnessing and designing AI to help us?
  7. Dark filter bubbles, confirmation bias, Cambridge Analytica and Macedonian teenagers. Can we turn data media manipulation around so no more unsuitable people win elections? (I crossed out “orange monsters” as I’m a better person than that).
  8. Micro-credentialing: Are there more flexible ways to get the skills you need for the fast-changing workforce? What about an education for life? Research? Learning to innovate and question?
  9. Cyber-security plays a role in stopping all of this technology and data getting into the wrong hands, reducing vulnerabilities and risk. If this is a huge growth and skills shortage area right now, how can we respond? What are the opportunities and how do we get there?

NOW – reflecting on all that, here are some tips to help you manage your way through all this:

  1. Head out of the sand. Change is coming fast but the sky is not necessarily falling (sorry mixed metaphors there)Be alert for manipulation; employ your critical skills and question where data is coming from and what it’s used for. Don’t compromise your values but get outside of your social media bubble and be challenged by others. Remember that for evil to prevail all it takes is for a few good people to do nothing.
  2. Get technical. Learn what’s under the lid and at the back end of the things that interest you. There is an explosion in learning platforms and accessibility of learning – if you are looking at micro-credentialling, watch for quality. Ask about learning outcomes, industry connections and post-learning opportunities.
  3. Do a good old-fashioned self-assessment and get advice so that you know what you bring – you could talk to a human alongside using one of many online career development tools.
  4. Get your empathy on. Do what you can to care for others and yourself. Consider how you can contribute and give back. Switch off your device and reduce screen time but when you are online, remember there is so much cyber love you can spread around so consider how you can contribute and give back. You can also engage in some stretching civics or leadership programmes.
  5. Get ethical. University is a great place to learn about ethics, especially if you study law, philosophy or social sciences, but at least look at doing a short course, or reading up on it. You can also engage in some stretching civics or leadership programmes.
  6. Mentor up and/or be a mentor for somebody else – Don’t go into this alone. Managing any sort of change is a contact sport. We’re in this together.

Image credit: Kris Krug

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