Futurists, from Al Gore to Google’s Larry Page, see a world filled with multiple robots and complex automated “things,” ready to do our bidding at the touch of an app.
Many are here right now: Kitchens that talk. Fitness monitors limiting TV time if wearers don’t meet fitness goals. Driverless cars and un-peopled fulfillment warehouses. Robotic surgery and microprocessor plants.
Soon after IBM’s Watson won Jeopardy in 2011, words started flying. Will “they” replace “us”? How many will be unemployed after the automatons take over? Need we fear for our long-term livelihoods?
Truth? A few of these worries might be valid.
Remember, though, what these technological innovations are intended to do: Replace simple and repetitive activities. They can’t make decisions (Watson, to the contrary). Nor can they perform complex and dynamic projects (though technology greatly aids us in analysis and scenario building).
Which brings us to our point: Yes, there is a slight risk for communicators, marketers, designers, change agents, and brand gurus. The risk: Not keeping up with the Gores of this world. Sure, computers can’t write … yet. [One did act as the late Roger Ebert’s voice when he lost his speaking function. But couldn’t substitute for his elegant prose and generous mind.] But if we can’t understand the latest and greatest of trends, automated and otherwise, if we don’t commit to always-on continual learning, yeah, Watson could put us out of business. No matter what we might think, personally, of all the technology wars or social media or networking or sustainability or [you fill in the blank], it’s our responsibility to be more than aware of what’s going on around us. To practice and get even better at our profession. And to share what we know about machines and their impact with our clients, our bosses, our companies, and our customers.
Watson, I want to see you. Now.