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Singularity and what it means for the future of work.

In a recent article we explored the role of the ‘Human Cloud’, where people, data and technology all come together to disrupt and challenge traditional jobs and working culture. 

Today, we go a step further, and touch on a little thing called ‘singularity, and the impact it has on people, jobs, the workplace and our everyday lives. Singularity is the point at which computing intelligence is more powerful than the human brain. It’s a computer so comprehensive it’s cognitive – a self-developing computer that learns so fast we can’t keep up – a conscious ‘thinking’ computer with awareness and even emotions.

Intelligent systems and new technologies are already hard at work, converging, and making technical breakthroughs that we’ve never experienced before. And at the forefront of singularity sit four technologies; Genetics, Robotics, IT and Nanotech – GRIN for short. ‘Machines already exist to support human development and help us go beyond current limitations. We’re living longer, being healthier and shaping biology to make generational step changes.’

For many people defects in human biology are simply slowing us down. We can already change our genes, cure diseases and monitor and repair our bodies. Think of all those perfectly formulated nutritional shakes, tablets, supplements, and smart watches that keep us fit and healthy. All of it is getting smaller as we build new and existing things at the scale of atomic matter.

And the step from smart-watch you wear to a smart-tablet you swallow isn’t such a big leap either. If that intelligent tablet could not just tell you your health vitals, but fix them too, we’ll live longer and healthier lives. And inside these smart tablets, nano computers will live, helping to regulate and fix anything that’s physically wrong with us. In time, these ‘nanobots’ will even become our authentication for buying products, opening our cars and even clocking into work. Frightening? progression? Or just inevitable? Is it so wrong to use technology to help us live longer, without pain, defect and disease and with the perfect genetic structure? “The challenges we face on the path towards singularity not only push the boundaries technically, but also test our religious, cultural and moral ideologies.”

Today, physical products are disappearing and turning into data. Letters are now emails, cash is a bunch of numbers you see in your online account. Data is also becoming physical products too. We’re able to print almost anything from a complete car to a gun. The more physical products transcend to data, and the more data evolves into the physical – the bigger the data gets. Big data is big business, and emerging from every ‘big data cloud’ is a form of artificial intelligence or A.I. 

In the 80s we built computers. In the 90s we networked computers to create cyber space. In the 00s, computers make observations, and process and learn patterns to make decisions for themselves. For example IBM has ‘Watson’, which takes unstructured data, making it super smart, predictive and insightful. They’re well on the path to building a ‘cognitive computer’ with A.I.  And we’ve already reached the point where computers have natural language understanding, visual processing and machine learning; all searching for sequences and structures to get even smarter.

A.I. and machine learning is all around us – from music, movie and shopping recommendations, to cyber security, fraud protection and the way we use everyday goods. We use A.I. everyday, even surfing the net. If we start to look at the internet in a new way – and not as a search engine, but as a super computer – we actually already access a combined ‘digital intelligence’ that in the near future will connect us in radically new ways. ‘Across the world, tech corps, labs and government funded projects are working hard to build a ‘to scale’ A.I. brain with more intelligence than a human.’

Google are spearheading the quest for singularity, assembling what looks like the greatest artificial intelligence hub on the planet, if their recent acquisitions are anything to go by. From military robotics company (Boston Dynamics), to a smart home thermostat firm (Nest, £1.9b), along with a small, sophisticated machine learning company (Deepmind, £240m), Google are serious about singularity. Let’s face it, we as humans are reliant on convenience and technology. All of this tech is recording more and more information about our lives, going beyond smart to intelligent. It’s watching us, and learning from our habits. Simply, technology is starting to take over the basic functions we need to operate as people. 

All those clever little apps that make everything easier, now record everything to help plan and manage our daily lives. And I mean everything – from conversations with friends and family, to daily routines, your bank balance, your favourite music, movies, food, brands, routes to work, important health stats, sleeping patterns and dirty little secrets. Where do we hide? We can’t. Every single element of our life is stored somewhere as big, fat, growing data, where others gorge on our life.

‘We’re predictable, we’re creatures of habit, we’re machines building other machines to make our live easier – we’re building machines that learn.’ Everything we use is designed to feast upon a growing and truly massive resource of ‘data’. It’s your data, that’s made up of everything about you. Now let’s throw in data about your education – all those ‘could try harder’ reports, skills, aspirations, work history, references, job preferences, colleagues, pay grades, appraisals and all those rants on social media about just how bad your employer is. Is it really that tricky to imagine that our entire working careers are being constantly processed and learnt – and our life and work behaviours converging over time, are all predictable?

According to research carried out by Deloitte and Oxford University, as soon as 2020, 47% of jobs could be automated. Think about that for a moment. Imagine what driverless vehicles, predictive data systems for all that admin, self-service bars, touchscreen supermarket checkouts and perhaps even workerless recruiters will all look and feel like in 10 year’s time, let alone 20, 30 or even 40. Automation means 24×7, 365 working, with computers that don’t get tired, don’t need Monday pep talks, don’t have appraisals, don’t need a desk, food, water or any form of human nurturing. The ultimate in efficiency? The world is changing fast with the emergence of automation driven by new tech, micro-industries and converging business models. Recruitment is no different, just at a slower rate of change, which is starting to speed up.

The traditional recruitment agency model is a process so old it hasn’t changed in over 150 years when Alsager Hay Hill formed in London in 1871. It’s hard to think of another industry which has lasted and thrived for so long on so little evolution. ‘Traditional recruitment is like rubbing two sticks together to make a fire – hard work, unreliable, crying out for a spark.’ Step changes in mobility, infrastructure and data analytics have given birth to new ways of communicating, hiring and managing talent. Employers have already moved from outsourced to in-house, utilising the same technology, network, tools and infrastructure which was once the lifeline of the recruitment agency.  Let’s face it, the little black book of contacts is now open to all, and the lifeline is a shred of its former self. 

As we enter into the era of automation, the recruitment world is prime for change, with increasingly sophisticated yet convenient tools to help us find, hire and manage more of what we want. On one hand job automation will take away jobs away, on the other, it creates new jobs and industries with exciting opportunities for everyone – from hybrid recruitment services, to the outright automation of people and processes. In this networked age, we benefit from being part of the ‘human cloud’. And with this comes the arrival of new remote working opportunities – something that will soon take on a whole new meaning. Remote working won’t simply be about anytime, anywhere working, but will also encompass virtual offices and locations too. The world of work will go beyond physical, into the virtual world where physical elements become data, 1’s and 0’s, and digital fabric.

As technology and science breakthroughs emerge and converge we’re faced with a whole series of challenges, ranging from infrastructure to human emotions, society, and regulation. Our growing reliance on intelligence systems is presenting legal challenges for employers around workforce displacement, governance, cybersecurity and data protection. We’re all living in the human cloud, computers manage our lives, we’re always online, we’re building machines to do our jobs.

– Are we really ready to accept this automated recruitment revolution?

– What will these computers look and sound like?

– When will we be ready?

– What will drive adoption: fear, greed, regulation or almost 150 years of recruitment industry necessity?

Change is always nice in theory. But for those who resist it? It happens anyway. Change is what us humans are best at. Change is the ‘constant’, the road towards singularity. For many, singularity is hard to comprehend, let alone accept. It’s so difficult to separate technology systems from religious, cultural and moral belief systems – our human nature. What makes us human is the emotional attachments, and the beliefs we have and feel.  It’s not the rate of technological evolution that will slow down singularity, it’s the rate that we as people can adopt such fundamental changes in our lives. Right now, we’re only taking our first steps and for now, most people still want to feel some human connection in what they do, how they hire and how they build a business packed full of people.

To finish, here’s a little head scratcher: if a human is a biological machine and consciousness is merely perception formed from an internal program that produces an experience we know as feeling or awareness, what if a computer was made of bio-mechanics and could not only solve generic problems but complex problems with more intelligence than people? Would it develop its own internal consciousness, thoughts, feelings and self awareness, and achieve singularity? Next up, ‘Smart Cities for Smarter Working’…

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