The world has become so complex that the idea of a power in which everything comes together and can be controlled in a centralized way is now erroneous
Forces Driving Change
At least four major forces are driving change in our private and work lives (Dobbs, Manyika, & Woetzel, 2015).
Globalisation means that businesses and organisations are developing increasing international influence and often on an increased scale. Hence, borders are not what they used to be (Rodrik, 2012) and the world’s economic profile is changing (Gray, 1998).
The global economic locus, intensity and dynamics are shifting to the Brazilian, Russian, Indian and Chinese (BRIC) emerging economies and cities within them. Urbanisation in the form of smart cities (Townsend, 2013) is on the rise.
Healthcare technology and improved diet is leading to longer lives for many, but sadly not all. So much so that in the west and parts of the BRIC economies, the 100-year life is upon us (Gratton & Scott, 2016). The 100-year life brings with it longer work lives, challenges our present understanding of retirement, and simultaneously presents issues for younger people seeking work.
Underpinning and enabling each of the preceding three forces is technological change (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2016), which is accelerating at an unprecedented rate.
Individually, the effects of these changes are remarkable, but the multiplier effect of their interactions is more remarkable still.
Information and communications technologies (ICT) enable globalisation and urbanisation. Moreover, urbanisation and globalisation drive demand for ever more sophisticated ICT solutions. Manufacturing technology is similarly enabling, and enabled. Medical and bioscience innovation increases our longevity, and as we live longer our expectations and demands of these technologies drives yet more creative solutions to ageing and its implications.
The economic impacts of globalisation on an ageing population are not well understood, but, it is apparent that conventional ways of thinking about ageing are weakening. The economic effects of globalisation have clear implications for health and healthcare, work and financial circumstances, culture and identity, and politics and policies (Hyde & Higgs, 2016). Further, as wealthier people age they will grow in economic and commercial influence, driving further change in the internationalisation of business and commerce.
As noted previously, globalisation is driving urbanisation, and multinational corporations switch their manufacturing operations in search of optimised production costs. In turn urbanisations acts as a magnet for skilled workers, as well as markedly improving the technological infrastructure of previously under-developed cities, offering attractive locations for multinationals.
Changing Work Lives
At the heart of this activity are our private and work lives, which are intimately intertwined, and which are hugely impacted by these substantial forces. That noted, without question the most challenging issue for us all is the way in which information technology, notably artificial intelligence (and specifically machine learning) is changing the world of work (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2016; Gratton, 2011; Gratton & Scott, 2016; Susskind & Susskind, 2015). The future of many present jobs is bleak, with automation forecast to take job tasks that are routinely analytical or manual. Retail sales remains the most common job, but as the pilot of Amazon’s checkout-free supermarket indicates, such jobs have a 90+% chance of becoming automated. Nurses and teachers are likely to soon become the most common jobs. It is mostly low-income jobs that risk being automated. Jobs that require creativity, decision-making and communication skills, as well as certain types of higher education are less likely to be reduced. With automation and fewer low-skilled jobs, the days of the managerial classes too look numbered (Frey & Osbourne, 2013).
The professions are not immune (Susskind & Susskind, 2015). IBM’s Watson is already capable of medical diagnoses. Its expertise and that of similar systems is and will increasingly challenge the hegemony of doctors, accountants, architects, consultants, lawyers and many others.
The world is complex and increasingly interconnected. The isolation sought by some countries will not last. The democratising power of technologies has or will shortly doom that drive to fail. The world is indeed complex, and the centralisation of power and its concentration in the hands of a few, whilst still predominant, is slowly being brought to its knees by the forces outlined above. Yes, new powerbrokers are emerging – notably the tech giants – but, the forces unleashed and now driving change may well yet overwhelm their progenitors.
We need to ready ourselves, our children and theirs. The world will not be the same very soon, and we need to be prepared for that.
Brynjolfsson, E., & McAfee, A. (2016). The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
Dobbs, R., Manyika, J., & Woetzel, J. (2015). No Ordinary Disruption. The Four Global Forces Breaking All the Trends. . New York: Public Affairs.
Frey, C. B., & Osbourne, N. (2013). The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation? Oxford, UK: Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford.
Gratton, L. (2011). The Shift: The Future of Work is Already Here. London: Harper Collins Business.
Gratton, L., & Scott, A. (2016). The 100-Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity. London: Bloomsbury.
Gray, J. (1998). False Dawn. London: Granta Books.
Hyde, M., & Higgs, P. (2016). Ageing and Globalisation. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.
Rodrik, D. (2012). The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Compan.
Susskind, R., & Susskind, D. (2015). The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Townsend, A. M. (2013). Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers and the Quest for New Utopia. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.