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What To Do When Machines Do Everything

We know what you're thinking: When machines do everything, what am I going to do? It’s a good question.

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We know what you're thinking: When machines do everything, what am I going to do? It’s a good question.

Opinions

What To Do When Machines Do Everything

We know what you're thinking: When machines do everything, what am I going to do? It’s a good question.

Share this article

If machines can do everything, then how are humans going to make a living? How are we going to pay the rent or mortgage or put food on the table? How are we going to survive when software eats all the knowledge work?

Even if you have reached a stage in your career in which you feel safe from the rise of the new machines, how will your children thrive when computers can out-think, out-work, and out-manage them? What do they study? Where do they focus? And will they have any chance of living a life as good as yours?

At work, how should your company be structured when so much can now be automated? What will happen to all those middle-class, middle management knowledge jobs that currently stand as the economic bedrock of our society?

These are all good questions—the right questions—for indeed, something very big is going on.

The rise of artificial intelligence is the great story of our time. Decades in the making, the smart machine is leaving the laboratory and, with increasing speed, is infusing itself into many aspects of our lives: our phones, our cars, the planes we fly in, the way we bank, and the way we choose what music to listen to.

Within the next few years, AI will be all around us, embedded in many higher-order pursuits. It will educate our children, heal our sick, and lower our energy bills. It will catch criminals, increase crop yields, and help us uncover new worlds of augmented and virtual reality.

Machines are getting smarter every day and doing more and more; they will soon change our lives and our work in ways that are easy to imagine but hard to predict. So what does one do?

WhenMachinesDoEverything Authors (002) (1024x681)

Malcolm Frank, Paul Roehrig and Ben Pring are leaders of Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work

These are the questions that have been going through our minds for a while, too. Anyone with a casual interest in the future can see these issues swirling through the zeitgeist at the moment: in movies (Ex Machina and Her), on TV (Black Mirror, Humans, and Battlestar Galactica), in books (Superintelligence and Rise of the Robots), and in countless articles in the press. But we have more than a casual interest in the future.

As the leaders of Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, it is our job to figure out how the future of work works. We engage with many of the world’s leading companies, universities, analysts, technologists, and economists to make sense of the great change we are all experiencing as well as to fathom how work will be reimagined, reconfigured, and restructured in the years to come.

We do this to understand how new technology will shape the opportunities we have and the threats we face and to foresee how man and machine will relate and coexist.

So we’ve spent the last three years thinking about what to do when machines do everything, separating the hype from the reality on the front lines of global business.

The bottom line? It’s going to be all right. In fact, better than all right, because AI is about to usher in a new industrial revolution that, for those who manage it properly, will generate significant economic growth.

Will the new machines displace many current workers? Yes. However, on a larger scale, new machines will also create work that is better, more productive, more satisfying than ever before. The new machines will raise living standards and usher in a period of widely distributed economic growth that will be far stronger than any we’ve seen in the Western world during the past 50 years.

But there’s a catch. You and the company you work for and represent must accept, embrace, and leverage the fact that, minute by minute, machines are doing more and more of the work we perform today.

This is where many people get stuck. They start tumbling down existential wormholes: Will machines need us? Who will control the machines? Will machines act in the best interests of humanity?

Again, these are great questions that prompt fascinating discussions, all of which we like having as much as the next person, particularly with a glass of red wine on hand. But these discussions don’t help you know what to do.

While some have their heads in the sky, others have their noses to the grindstone. While some will ponder, winners will act. Our new book, What To Do When Machines Do Everything, aims to answer questions about the future of your business and your work in an era of intelligent machines.

It explains how you as an individual and as a leader in your organization can survive and thrive in a world where machines do everything. It explains what you should do, why, and what will happen if you don’t.

We wrote it because we are in an amazing time. Though we are professional students of the future, the three of us are students of history as well. Understanding the great shifts of the past provides a framework for understanding how change happens in the here and now.

The rise of machine intelligence is such a moment of great change. Our children and grandchildren will study these times just as we study James Watt, Andrew Carnegie, and Thomas Edison.

It’s time to build our own future, complete with a sense of optimism and confidence. When machines do everything, there will still be a lot for you to do. Let’s get on with it.

This is an edited extract from What To Do When Machines Do Everything: How to Get Ahead in a World of AI, Algorithms, BOTs and Big Data by Malcolm Frank, Paul Roehrig and Ben Pring (Wiley, 2017).

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