A future of work

Dell and Intel asked one consulting group to think about the future of technology work.  The results, “The Evolving Workforce”, are interesting as a trends analysis.

TNS identified seven trends:

Crowdsourcing and Crowdsource service: The workforce of the future, for many industries, could be thousands of people working in different places. Is Cloud computing and other information and communications technology (ICT) applications going to make it easier to distribute more tasks and adhere to a ‘just in time’ labor force model?

Productivity measured in outputs, not hours: Standardized measures of productivity based on numbers of hours inputted would become less relevant in a knowledge based economy. What are going to be the new metrics to assess productivity?

Changes in adoption of devices: The number and types of devices and operating systems are proliferating and changing. Choice of device would become more about the situation, location and occasion. Are employers and the current systems and processes going to allow for increased end-user utility and choice?

Intergenerational kiss and punch: There will be more intergenerational knowledge transfer between younger ‘digital natives’ and the older generation. However, is there an increased risk of conflict and tension between workers of different ages, backgrounds, knowledge and skills?

Values versus rules: It would become easier to tell what employees are doing, but harder to tell them what to do. In this scenario, would employers use pervasive technology to oversee their workforces at any given time? And if so, would distrust of employers accelerate?

Many hats of the IT manager: As employee aspirations change to a greater onus on happiness, autonomy and choice, workplace IT would be one way of recruiting and retaining staff. Will the job of the IT manager increasingly align to the HR department?

Employee-led innovation: The business software of the future will be adopted and increasingly be designed by employees rather than management or the IT department. Are we going to see more networked, de-centralized organizations to facilitate this shifting corporate hierarchy?

A fascinating mix.  Note how many of these are about workplace tensions, either generational or organizational.  Technology is less a driver than are social and political factors.

Some of these trends cover multiple points.  “Values”, for instance, seems to really be about data and privacy.

The report appends a very short case study to each one.  My favorite is about generational differences:

Lloyds of London has moved from a paper-based system for creating, maintaining and updating client contracts to a tablet-based system. However, a significant level of resistance was encountered from some brokers. A solution that employs software that imitates the look and feel of the old paper-based system has now been rolled out. This has been received positively from the brokers.

The future of embarrassment

Sf writer Charlie Stross poses an intriguing futures question.  What will embarrass people in the future, after a generation of online porn, widespread surveillance, and ubiquitous computing?

What is public shame going to look like in 2033? And what are the implications for the psychological profile of the kind of people who will be campaigning for high level office? Are we going to see candidates for the highest posts raised from toddler-dom in hermetically sealed media bubbles by their dynastic political parents, with lives so carefully curated that there’s nothing for their rivals to get a handle on during a dirty campaign? Or are we going to see a public who increasingly expect politicians to behave like jaded celebrities (or their own peers) and who won’t blink at revelations of anything short of murder?

What is the future of blackmail in the 21st century?

The quest to find predictable patterns in history never ends.  For example, one team thinks it has detected a stable cycle in American popular violence.

To Peter Turchin, who studies population dynamics at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, the appearance of three peaks of political instability at roughly 50-year intervals is not a coincidence. For the past 15 years, Turchin has been taking the mathematical techniques that once allowed him to track predator–prey cycles in forest ecosystems, and applying them to human history. He has analysed historical records on economic activity, demographic trends and outbursts of violence in the United States, and has come to the conclusion that a new wave of internal strife is already on its way. The peak should occur in about 2020, he says, and will probably be at least as high as the one in around 1970. “I hope it won’t be as bad as 1870,” he adds.

Pew and Elon on the future of education

The Pew Internet and American Life Project polled a bunch of us about education in 2020.   It’s a good discussion.

Notice the opening prompt, a forced choice between “two scenarios for 2020. One posited substantial change and the other projected only modest change in higher education.”  “No change” wasn’t an option.

Prediction market on the US presidential election

One of the most visible prediction markets now calls the US presidential election for the incumbent.  President Obama to win is now trading at 57.1, while Romney is valued at just about 40.