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Corinna Lathan: Imagining an Internet of Things — and People

Machine-to-machine communication will lead to increasing automation of traditional tasks. What will this mean for the role of the worker?


Technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are already impacting our lives, but they are poised to dramatically change our lives in the future.

When we think of the current IoT, we tend to focus on machines and devices connecting to each other — such as technology that allows us to remotely monitor and control our home environment. But we also can imagine scenarios in the near future that could have a more direct impact on our lives.

One such scenario might be that your robot-like refrigerator senses that you are low on milk. It automatically sends a message to the grocery store where a robot retrieves your milk and then ships it out — with no human in the loop.

If we assume that any task — like this one — that can be automated will be, then what role will the human workforce play in five, 10 or 50 years? We discussed this prospect at length at the Debates of Tomorrow session held during the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos last month.

Many scenarios like the refrigerator scenario were presented during the session, where discussion moved beyond the existing IoT to envisioning the future of the IoT. We were challenged to look at the technology revolutions launched by the WEF’s Council on Emerging Technologies, particularly in the areas of data, neuroscience, and robotics.

The impact of technology on jobs, quality of life and work-life balance was a key theme. While all of the participants agreed that the jobs of today will not exist tomorrow, we really have no idea what will replace them. But most think we will have more choice over how we define ourselves and spend our time.

If advances in technology lead to skyrocketing productivity, and basic human needs are more easily met, then human beings can work for purpose — not for survival.

This will leave them more space to work where humans uniquely excel — at emotional, interactive and creative tasks. In this world, imagination and passion will matter most in the job market, even more than acquired skills and knowledge. Our education system will need to adapt to reflect the multidisciplinary, leadership and communication skills that are going to be needed in the future.

In the future of the IoT, it won’t just be machines that are connected — it will be people. What if our smartphones recorded our emotional state and then fed this information back to the cloud so that it was accessible to family, friends and colleagues. This will result in a connected human-machine intelligence with enormous amounts of data flow.

By elevating imagination and passion to critical competencies, I believe data will be curated in a way that drives technology toward a human-centered future — rather than allowing technology to drive us.

(Top image: Courtesy of Thinkstock)


Corinna Lathan is CEO of AnthroTronix and Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on AI and Robotics.

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