Trend #1: the liberation of intellectual labor

Author: Ury Smirnov. Category: Subjective rating of changes. Date:17.01.2012, 16:24.

I’m finishing a series of posts about the “implicit trends that clearly would change the way of life, way of thinking and people relation the future”. Forecasts are based on the results of continuous monitoring of news under the project “Subjective rating of the 2011 changes”.

One of the most far-reaching technological advances in 2011, as I think, is the emergence of IBM Watson. This is a real breakthrough in the interaction of man and machine: a supercomputer Watson is able to detect qualitatively human speech, to identify and analyze using complex algorithms subtle semantic nuances of a given issue, if necessary, ask the interlocutor to clarify the details – and to find a comprehensive response that takes into account the most recent data, which even the experts did not manage to meet (in 3 seconds supercomputer analyzes 200 million pages of text to find the answer).

The supercomputer not only beats participants the intellectual TV quiz Jeopardy (the Russian equivalent of “Jeopardy” is “One’s own game”), but it really helps in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Among the industries that will mostly benefit from this technology, survey respondents in 2011 IBM Tech Trends Report named education, medicine, aerospace / defense industry, life sciences (biology, biochemistry, immunology, genetics, physiology, ecology, etc.) the public sector.

Hopefully that in the coming years, similar solutions would be offered by other manufacturers, and eventually a productive dialogue between the user and the machine in a natural human language will be available to all, as now an internet search is available (some experts believe that in 2025 an average laptop will have the power of Watson). It is difficult to overestimate the immediate practical consequences. But, in my opinion, the indirect ones are not less important.

In a situation when the machine gives the most accurate answer almost at any question, the importance of the question dramatically increases. The competition among specialists, asking questions, will increase – and, the winner will be those who think more systematically and creatively. If in the past decades, narrow specialization of researchers, developers, managers, etc. was encouraged increasingly, now they will have the time and incentives for the development of adjacent areas. It is important for scientific and technological progress: as you know, the most valuable ideas are born at the junction of the various areas of expertise. This is important for the experts: the possibility and the need to work productively with a variety of knowledge bases will be a stimulus for the development of cognitive skills, creativity, enhance professional outlook, the development of the “language” of other sciences. The classic and universal approaches, including a more holistic view of the world, the history and future, the problems and their solutions will revive in education. The horizontal mobility of intellectual workers will increase: they will be easier to find a new project for the soul and even a new profession. Namely, this will be required from them with the dynamic economy of the XXI century.

However, the mass release of intellectual labor, which allows people to reduce the proportion of routine tasks and focus on the creative ones, is a serious challenge. At least, if not more serious than the massive reduction in the proportion of manual labor. In some sense, the two world wars in the XX century are the “costs” of selfish choices and scenarios for the “human capital management”, made in the era of industrial revolution and industrialization …

It will require discussion of politicians, scientists, business about opportunities and risks of changes in the division of labor and system of social elevators. At the same time the elite of many countries, including formally democratic, should ripen to renunciation of the media-zombiing and the masses lumpenization, of the artificial constraints of independent, creative thinking in education, science, public administration, etc. They will have to learn to manage “people, growing wiser” – if they want their country to remain competitive, and they enjoyed the growing fruits of this competitiveness.

But “people growing wiser” – everybody of us – also need to learn how to find and reveal their talents, to be mobile. Fortunately, with the advent of the internet the number of people who are worried about finding their true place in life has increased dramatically – did you notice?

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