How should we think about and respond to new technologies and societal changes as they arrive in our world? They never arrive perfectly formed. They disrupt the world we know. But some of them will stick around and change that world, and we need to get better at engaging with them as they do so.
This is a 15-minute mini masterclass on dealing with disruption and changing our minds about some of the fears and objections we might have to change.
This is Part 2 of the Thinking Like a Futurist discussion on “The Robots Are Coming”. Make sure you watch last week’s episode before you dive into this one (see Throw Forward Thursday 90)
Welcome to Throw Forward Thursday, my name is Graeme Codrington and I want to talk to you about robots, or, as we discovered last week, Aaarrrghhh, the robots are coming. If you haven’t watched last week’s video, or if you listen on the podcast, if you haven’t listened to it, please pause now, go and watch it, and then come back. This will make a lot more sense.
In season three of Throw Forward Thursday. We’re taking two weeks to look at a topic, one week to jump into the future, see what’s going on over there. Last week, we had a look at robots and how some people fear a future filled with robots, whereas others see a paradise enabled by robots.
The second week, which is where we are now, we apply that idea to different industries. We learn lessons and principles that we can apply to your job, even if you’re not working in the robot industry or in an industry that will be affected at all by robots, and we learn how to think like a futurist. So come with me and thank you for your time.
It was Bill Gates who said that we tend to overestimate what might happen in two years and underestimate what can happen in ten, and then he said that we shouldn’t be lulled into inaction. What do we mean by that? Well, our brains are programmed to see problems, our brains are programmed when they see a shadow, to immediately think that this is a threat, and you’ve got that fight or flight instinct built into you. And what we look for in the world is what we see.
One of my favourite examples of this is this little it’s not an optical illusion, but it’s just something that shows you how your brain works. Please focus on the twirling images here. If you’re listening to the podcast, sorry, you’re not going to be able to see this one, maybe jump onto YouTube for this particular one because I think you’ll find it fascinating. Focus on the green dot as hard as you can and within a few seconds, typically, the harder you focus on the green dot, just don’t take your eyes off that green dot. The harder you focus on the green dot, the more likely it is that the yellow dots will start to flash and then disappear.
Now, if that hasn’t happened for you yet, about 10% of people don’t experience this but ask somebody else to come and have a look and they’ll tell you the yellow dots will blink and then disappear. Except, of course, the yellow dots never blink and never disappear. If you don’t believe me, rewind the video and go and have a look. The yellow dots are stuck there.
What’s going on? Well, it’s got to do with the way your brain processes information in psychological terms that you might even think of this as confirmation bias. Your brain is desperate to find proof of what it already believes, and so you don’t see with your eyes, you see with your brain, and your brain literally hides information from you. It literally hides things in the world like those yellow dots that it thinks you don’t need to see.
Now, to put it in the context of what I’m talking about here, we see what we are looking for. So if you think that a new technology like robots is going to cause massive harm and destruction to the world, you’ll find examples of that and that is what you will see and you will ignore all the good things that might come from it.
If you’re an eternal optimist, you’ll see the good things and maybe you’ll ignore some of the bad things and maybe you shouldn’t. Maybe we’ll talk about this at some stage. I think it’s actually more important for us, I think there’s an urgent need for us to be more optimistic and opportunity focused in the world at the moment but maybe we’ll come back to that a little bit later. Obviously, what we’re trying to do is find some form of middle ground where we’re not overcome by the fear of what could go wrong and we’re not blinded by the paradise of what can go right, but somewhere in between. Now, Gartner’s, the consulting firm, came up with something they called their Hyper Cycle that explains what typically happens when new technology emerges.
So, now let’s go back to our theme of robots. We looked at that Toyota robot called Q Three and we saw that half of the people thought, this technology is going to take over the world, Humanoid robots that can take over our jobs, there’s nothing left for us to do in the world now. Aaarrrghhh, The robots are coming, as we saw last week, and in the Gartner’s Hype Cycle, you can see an example of this here. What happens is a new technology emerges and there’s this massive hype over inflating the expectations of what this technology can do in both good and bad ways, just people thinking, “wow, this technology is going to do amazing, wonderful, awesome, awful things”. Then suddenly we realise, and suddenly the other voices become very loud to say, “no man, this technology is rubbish. It will never change anything”. Look, it’s not perfect, it’s a complete disaster, waste of time.
Then you dip down to the bottom of the graph, Gartner a little bit overhyped themselves and they called it the trough of disillusionment. What then happens is either at that point the technology just disappears completely because it was rubbish and it’s gone, but almost always you come out of that trough and people begin to say, you know what, actually, the truth is, somewhere in between, there is a good use case for this. It’s not going to be as hyped as we thought it was, but there are some valuable uses, it’s not going to be as crazy as we thought it was, but there’s a more realistic assessment of it, and then you get, again, I think, overstated labels, but you get to the plateau of productivity, which basically just means this is now a product that people use that can be sold and can make you some money.
So, that’s the Gartner Hype Cycle well worth reading up if you haven’t seen it before. But what this hype cycle tells us to do is to beware, be aware and beware of, both of these extremes, the extreme of this fear mongering, and pick a technology that’s coming. Driverless cars, you’ve got people like Elon Musk telling us, “no, there will be driverless cars within the next ten years, every car will be driverless”, massively overhyped. Then you get newspapers who are reporting on every single driverless car that has a crash, not reporting that when one driverless car has a crash, on that same day, 100,000 other cars had crashes with drivers in them. So driverless cars are already better, safer than, you know, cars with human drivers.
The same is happening with ChatGPT, you know, some people are saying, good grief, this is going to change anything, we don’t need journalists and writers and media communication, we don’t need educators, we don’t need anybody anymore. ChatGPT will do everything for us, and of course it won’t. And then we’ve got a whole lot of other people saying it makes mistakes sometimes and you can’t trust it and you’ve got educators saying we need to ban it from our schools because it’s cheating, complete overreaction on the opposite side.
So, my example last week about robots was mainly to make this point. Whether it’s robots or artificial intelligence, ChatGPT or driverless cars, or any other technology that you can imagine, don’t get caught up in between these two extremes. So, what will people say? People will say, it’s not perfect, and then they say, well, it’ll never be perfect. Well, of course, that’s not true. You need to say it’s not perfect now, but what would happen if it became perfect? What would happen if we got a humanoid robot that could play basketball? What would happen if we could get a companion robot for elderly people who could chat to those people, maybe even be imbued a little bit with the character of maybe a partner who has passed on, and now they can feel a sense of companionship and care, even from a robot. Wouldn’t that be a remarkable use of robotics? What would happen if we could get it right and get it perfect?
Now of course, we’ve got to be a little bit careful of vaporware, which is a label that is often used where people just hype this up too much, again, Elon Musk, a few years ago, he came out with this robot and said, “Tesla will build a robot”, and it was literally a person dressed up like silver foil. So people can over promise and under deliver, and it might take much longer than we anticipate, but still, we mustn’t be put off by waiting for the perfect when it’s clear that something is happening, and what if? is a great question to ask.
Of course, some people will also say “it will take jobs”, and of course what they really mean is, “I think it might take my job”. Well, history tells us that it probably will take a few jobs. Any new technology, whether it’s the wheel or the engine or the railway or the paperback book from the printing press, yeah, it is going to take a few jobs, and maybe it will take yours. But history teaches us that that doesn’t happen quickly and that if we keep our eyes open, there is a chance to retrain and learn new skills, more jobs are created than our lust with technological advances, that has been true throughout history, and the best option is for humans and machines to work together. Now, I’m not saying there are no problems, I’m not saying that nobody will lose their jobs. But let’s fix those as societal issues and solve those problems, rather than saying it’s the technology advance that is the problem. It’s the way we’ve set society up that’s the problem.
So, I know this video is going on a little bit longer. I hope it’s useful to you. There’s a philosophical flip side to this. What if we could create a world where we lived a life of leisure and the machines did all the work for us, where everybody had enough money and resources to live happy and fulfilled lives without needing a job? Would that sound like paradise to you? I’ve heard people argue against that world, “saying, no, we won’t enjoy a world unless we’ve worked hard for it.” And I say, nonsense. I’d very happily go back to playing my trumpet and painting, which are my true passions, if I didn’t have to make money, or if I could make money by doing those things that would be wonderful.
Yes, yes, there’s a lot of philosophy and conversation to be had here, but we could tax the companies that used robots and machines, take that money, redistribute that money to the people who no longer have jobs. Is that worth thinking about? Is that worth working towards? Or maybe are you stuck in an old-school paradigm? And maybe that’s the real thing that we’re fighting against. It’s not the robots that scare you, socialism or communism or something else, I don’t know. But let’s maybe have those conversations rather than fighting the robots.
One final argument people will say is that not everyone has access to these new technologies, and that is true. But should we exclude those people who do have access to the technology because of some people who don’t? I don’t think so. What we should do is ensure that there are no structural barriers that are creating exclusion and work hard to include and actively include as many people as possible, but now we’re back to politics and economics, and society issues rather than technology problems. History tells us that new technologies advance our ability to build better societies if we use them properly, and that’s what we should be talking about and doing.
In your work, let’s stop being philosophical and be practical as we finish up here. In your work, what you need to be looking for is how you can use new technologies, whether they be robots, artificial intelligence, driverless cars, or whatever, but how you can use new technologies not waiting until they are perfect, creating some capacity to experiment with them, thinking about what would happen if they were perfect and what impact they would have on your business and then creating opportunities for people to experiment, to try and to move your business forward.
Aaarrrghhh, The robots are coming. That’s not the right response to the future. The robots are coming, let’s see where they might take us. That’s a much better way of thinking like a futurist. Sjoe, there’s a lot in this video, feels like a mini-lecture rather than a Throw Forward Thursday, but I hope that that’s been useful to you. Maybe you need to watch the video again and have a look at things like the Gartner Hype Cycle to just understand some of what I’ve been talking about.
But all the best as you and your team develop an ability to imagine what would happen if you allowed new technologies to change the way you do business, to change the way you think about your business, and to take you into the future.
As always, if you’d like some assistance with this, make sure that you contact me and my team. The best way to do that is to go to this web website, askaboutthefuture.com, you can leave me any question or get in touch via my website or any of my social channels.
Let’s talk about the future and see how we can help you to get there.
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Graeme Codrington, is an internationally recognized futurist, specializing in the future of work. He helps organizations understand the forces that will shape our lives in the next ten years, and how we can respond in order to confidently stay ahead of change. Chat to us about booking Graeme to help you Re-Imagine and upgrade your thinking to identify the emerging opportunities in your industry.
For the past two decades, Graeme has worked with some of the world’s most recognized brands, travelling to over 80 countries in total, and speaking to around 100,000 people every year. He is the author of 5 best-selling books, and on faculty at 5 top global business schools.