“If we develop good ideas today about the possibilities and opportunities technological progress can bring for everyone, then it can be the best that has ever happened to us.”
In conversation with Lars Gaede about technological progress and how it can lead to a common good.
Lars, as a journalist you have written for DIE ZEIT, Neon and WIRED, among others. In 2015 you founded Work Awesome, an agency based in Berlin and New York that, among other things, curates and organizes conferences on the subject of “tomorrow’s world of work”. The next one will take place on November 21. held in Berlin. ( www.workawesome.de ). I would like to talk to you about the new technological possibilities – especially about digital business models and what influence they will have on our working world.
Changes are happening very rapidly in the digital world. Technologies and customer demands change quickly. In order to be competitive, companies must adapt to this new speed and act faster and more agile. It therefore no longer makes sense in the future to orchestrate projects first, plan processes for a long time, chew through all sorts of committees and then implement the cascade hierarchically. It’s more about developing new things quickly in cross-functional teams with their own end-to-end responsibility, and then iteratively developing and improving these prototypes based on customer feedback – as is already the case in software development is lived for a long time. Really large companies are already involved, to convert their processes according to agile methods. That’s a good thing. The exciting question is then: How can you scale that? So how do you get from agile projects to agile organizations? It is not enough just to look at people’s mindsets or the methods alone. You have to start with the organization and its operating system.
Virtual and Augmented Reality: How and where do you see their areas of application in the near future?
In the near future, I see virtual reality in the field of marketing and sales, for example as a presentation tool for customers who can look at their piece of furniture in a virtually simulated apartment in the furniture store. But I think that the use of augmented reality as a hybrid of actual reality and virtual elements will prevail. Even today people in production wear glasses that, when they stand in front of a large shelf with lots of parts, show which part they need to put this or that product together. This is much more efficient and easier than having to manually leaf through a catalog of building instructions.
Robots have long since arrived in production. Do you actually see potential for robots in the office?
I think robots make sense when it comes to creating mechanical things. And the progress here is already huge. In the past, robots had to be programmed very precisely what to do when they were there or there. In the future, machines will be able to move more freely and skilfully, even in uncontrolled environments. You will be able to grab fragile things such as B. could mean that robots could be used more in the care sector. Another area of application that a lot of people would like, of course, is the household. Including me! Unfortunately, activities such as cleaning are still incredibly difficult for machines because things in the household are not always in the same place and are difficult for the machine to distinguish. That means the machine has to recognize that’s a piece of paper on the desk and that’s rubbish or something else. Unfortunately, it still takes a very, very long time until a machine tidies up or cleans as well as a person. In the office itself, I don’t see any large areas of application, since it’s more about cognitive skills. These can of course be supported or even replaced by artificially intelligent systems in the future, but we will not have the robot as a colleague sitting next to us.
Let’s talk about the development and use of artificial intelligence in a moment.
There are three major drivers here that are essential for the rapid development. First, computing power has increased rapidly, not least because of the cloud, in which we can now process huge amounts of data. Second, we now have access to billions of data records from which intelligent systems learn independently, i.e. recognize patterns and derive processes from them independently. For the most part, this analysis and derivation skills are no longer comprehensible to humans. And third, there is a significant improvement in the algorithms and in the actual programming of the algorithms. Today machines can read, write, understand languages, independently draw conclusions from huge amounts of data and derive actions from them. This will subsequently lead to very great upheavals. In some areas, machines are already much better than people today, e.g. B. in the visual detection of anomalies in the medical field. Of course, humans are much better than any machine in the world when it comes to empathy, general intelligence and creative work. Machines do not come up with genuinely new ideas of their own. But wherever work is carried out according to very structured processes, there is great potential for automation.
What does it actually mean for society if jobs are cut off for technological reasons?
We would be well advised if we prepare for the changes in the labor market and develop solutions so that this does not lead to major social problems. For example, one way would be to use education to empower people to do things that machines can’t do so well. In other words, the tasks that involve empathy, interpersonal skills and creativity. In the bigger picture one has to look whether and how we redistribute the wealth of societies in order to reduce the greater social inequality. The labor market and the distribution of wealth should be organized in such a way that not just a few benefit from this technological change, but everyone as possible. If this does not succeed, I believe it can be very dangerous and have political consequences. You can already see them in the first steps in z. B. the USA, where Trump was mainly elected by people who have not benefited from rapid technological change. For me, Brexit is also a consequence of growing social inequality. Part of this inequality arises from the fact that few benefit from the change. Or that they at least feel left behind.
So we have to deal with social inequality?
Above all, we also have to break away from the concept of work, which only allows paid work to be considered real work. This term has always been wrong. Think of all of the volunteering, raising, or caring for the family. That should also be recognized socially and perhaps also rewarded. With the prosperity generated by increasing automation, we could in future afford to pay a fair amount of work that is still free or poorly paid today. A model that has already been discussed is the basic income.
If we think about it further: the unconditional basic income. What role or purpose do companies or organizations then have?
Companies and organizations lose nothing of their purpose when people receive a basic income. There will certainly be some changes in the wage structure in that hard jobs that are uncomfortable are paid better than before, because people are no longer so dependent on them because of the basic income. A basic income could lead to a kind of start-up wave, because people can just try things out, so to speak, without having to immediately take a major entrepreneurial risk. If that goes well, we might even have more companies than today.
Lars Gaede has worked as an editor at ZEIT, Neon, WIRED and Deutsche Welle, among others. Today he and his company conceive, curate and moderate live formats on the topic of the future of work – from innovation journeys through Lagos, Nigeria to tailor-made in-house workshops and keynotes on remote work and much more. He organizes www.workawesome.de, a conference series on the future of work in Berlin and New York as well as www.organizeawesome.com, a co-learning community for executives.