Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Workplaces in the 2020s

Brian David Johnson. Image Source: WSJ via Intel.

The Wall Street Journal has interviewed Intel's Chief Futurist, Brian David Johnson, on how robots will take over certain professions by the 2020s, and which human jobs and skills will become prominent in the future as a result:
“As we approach the year 2020, the size of meaningful computational intelligence begins to approach zero. In other words, computers are shrinking. Soon they will get so small that they will be nearly invisible. This means that in 10 years we will be able to turn almost anything into a computer. We will be living and working in an intelligent environment and in many cases we will essentially be working inside a computer.

“Every day we create a massive amount of data. Google’s Eric Schmidt has famously said that every two days we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003. As computing gets more powerful, it will seem like data has a life of its own. And it will. You’ll have machines talking to machines, computers talking to computers, all processing this data. But what will it feel like to work in this coming age of big data?

“Data will be our colleagues and our employees. And, like all employees, they will need a good manager – an algorithm. An algorithm is really just a sequential series of steps that processes data. We will need to “train” our algorithms to have a better understanding of humans and how to make human lives better. After all, we are their bosses.

“As we look to 2020 it might appear that computers and data will overrun the workplace. But remember, a computer will never clean a bathroom sink. At least in the near future, computers and data won’t replace the paper towels in the bathroom. But a computer will write up your local little League scores and a computer will operate on your spine. (Hint, this is already happening.)

“This has broad implications for what we think of as valuable skills and employees in the workplace. Today we value journalists and surgeons much more than janitors, but in 2022 we may think very differently. We will need to understand what humans are really good at and foster those skills, outsourcing the rest to the brilliant intelligence and efficiency of the future.”
WSJ held a live chat with Johnson here. In the chat, he remarks that brain surgeons will be replaced by robots. But we will still need human beings to scrub bathroom sinks? I am not sure how this spells progress. WSJ: "You actually suggested in your guest column that janitors might be more valued than neurosurgeons in the workplaces of the future."

Johnson emphasizes the need for human skills and analysis in the future: "Emotional intelligence will be important in a world where we are bombarded by data. Understanding how to talk to and interact will people will be an important skill [presumably the sink scrubbing comes into play here]. Having a deep understanding of programming and computers will be a great base but critical thinking will be even more impor[t]ant...understanding how to process all the BIG Data will be key." I suppose it will, until computers evolve to the point where they are better at analyzing Big Data than we are.
He also stresses that social etiqutte and rituals will grow around new computing-ridden realities: "Etiquette will come. We have to remember that these technologies like smartphones are really quite new ... we need to have a larger cultural conversation around what's acceptable and what isn't. I think this is happening now. But we always have to remember that these technologies are just tools. People make the decisions for how to use them." He closes: "Kind of interesting that all of the tech will actually make being human more valuable. The more human you are the more employable you will be."

There are a lot of unquestioned assumptions here, some inherent contradictions, and Johnson does not sound entirely convinced when he says that we will be in control of computers. That ambiguity over control likely spells the real future in the 2020s. Will we be masters of our nano-tech, which will likely be embedded in our bodies - or worse, our brains - or the other way around?


  1. It will be nice living in a world where emotional intelligence might be rewarded! Great post. Your stuff is terrific.

  2. Thanks very much Jen, everything will be great, just so long as we don't need brain surgery. I do hope that technological advances may change the workplace but also create new jobs and our current economic woes will ease.

    1. "Thanks very much Jen, everything will be great, just so long as we don't need brain surgery."

      Hah! Sounds like a lot of very bad science fiction to me... sort of the human-drones-handmaids-to-machines scenario. I think you've nailed it. Now, beam me up, Scotty! ;-)

  3. Hi Dia, thank you for your comment. Yes I agree with Jen that placing priority on emotional intelligence in the workplace might be highly beneficial in the future; however, the rest of Brian David Johnson's comments did not display all that much emotional intelligence, at least as far as this article was concerned. The future he predicts sounds emotionally tone-deaf.

  4. "The future he predicts sounds emotionally tone-deaf."
    Agreed... it also sounds like the perfect breeding ground for a new form of elitist fascism. I'm not sure the bulk of the world's population is advanced enough in other vital ways to find a home in Johnson's hypothetical future... and what becomes of them? I find his statement "The more human you are the more employable you will be" kind of creepy.

  5. Thanks for your comment, Dia. Yes, the dot.com industry has institutionalized futurism and indeed tries to corner the market on understanding our times and setting trends. It would be so nice if these tech companies stepped back from their pre-determined 'we know what's good for you even if you don't' mindset. So much effort was spent on dismantling rigid unthinking patriarchal social structures. But they were almost overnight replaced by a similar credo. Every time I turn on a computer or a gadget, I detect the corporate psychology of a pre-determined future, which is originally masculine in quality (reflecting the presumptuous mentalities of the original computer designers/engineers), hierarchical and finally - missing an aspect of human sensibility and intuition.

  6. I find the notion of a spinal computer absolutely freakin terrifying! -J