By Steven Windmueller, Ph.D.
The coordinated “ransomeware attacks” involving “malicious software that infects a computer and restricts users’ access” that occurred over the past few days impacting 99 countries should remind us of the power of technology.
Within the next quarter century, as a result of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, our lives will be fundamentally transformed by technology. What are the operational implications for the Jewish community? What will it mean in terms of the ethical underpinnings of the relationship between human understanding and the place of technology?
We’ve already grown accustomed for example to the idea of self-driving cars, devices that have multiple functions, and computers that have the capacity to “talk with us.” As exciting as this new age of technology appears to be, the forecasts predict a fundamental reordering of entire professional fields, making some sectors obsolete, even as they boost productivity and promote convenience. If widespread predictions are correct, automation within the workplace is set to accelerate at an unprecedented rate.
Many of these new devices and technologies have a direct impact on the nonprofit sector in general and the Jewish communal system in particular. Specific upgrades and applications in Software, Cloud, Analytics, Social Media, and Mobile Devices will be particularly important to the third-sector.
The optimism propagated by these transformative changes is proportional to the fear felt by others. Today, half of the firms on the Fortune 500 list in 1999 have left this unique business collection, replaced by companies that better reflect the new age of technology.
The Arrival of Robots:
In this period of rapid transition, not only will life styles be altered but also jobs will be transformed, and in some cases lost! Robots will transform the workplace. A 2013 study by the Oxford Martin School estimated that over the next two decades 47% of jobs in this country will be lost as new technologies replace human capital. According to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute by 2025 robots could impact up to 75 million jobs globally.
As the Silicon Valley entrepreneur Martin Ford suggests: “The reality is that a very large fraction of our workforce is engaged in activities that are on some level routine, repetitive and predictable.” If this is the case, retraining a large portion of the workforce to engage in more creative activities beyond the reach of automation will pose an enormous challenge.
Robots, according to a number of studies, are becoming more mobile, versatile and affordable. For example, Baxter, a US constructed device, is able to handle many assignments from loading to packaging. Similarly, white-collar jobs are also at risk as software becomes more sophisticated. “One example is Quill, a program developed by Narrative Science that crunches data and generates reports in a journalistic style.” Data analysis in such areas as finance and advertising is now being outsourced to computers.
The Virtual World:
Let’s examine a few of these new technological innovations! The future of social interaction will be happening through VR (Virtual Reality). Already Microsoft has been able to transport people to different places, “interacting seamlessly almost hologram-like in a way that’s both creepy and awesome.” (This technology is known as Holoportation.) In the medical field, one finds an amazing set of new initiatives, including, an IBM computer that has been employed to diagnose cancer patients.
In another development, newly created websites are now able to match employers with independent contractors, fundamentally changing the workplace. The “Human Cloud,” consisting of independent contractors who are available to work on demand from remote locations, represents a phenomenon that may radically change the employment scene not only for business organizations but for the nonprofit sector as well. The past five years have seen a proliferation of online platforms that match employers (known as “requesters”) with freelancers (referred to as “taskers”), inviting them to bid for each task. Two of the biggest sites are Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, which lays claim to 500,000 “turkers” from 190 countries at any given time, and Upwork, which estimates that it has 10 million freelancers from 180 countries on its database. They compete for approximately 3 million tasks or projects each year. Management consultants McKinsey estimate that by 2025 some 540 million workers will have used one of these platforms to find work. The benefits for companies using these sites are obvious: instant access to a pool of cheap, willing talent, without lengthy recruitment processes and with no legal obligation to provide holiday or health coverage.
Traditional organizations have had a challenge in attracting the millennial generation. This age cohort is seeking an entrepreneurial work culture, where there exists a environment of flexibility. Influenced by the new technologies, a series of “intrapreneurship” programs have emerged, where employees are expected to think and act like entrepreneurs within their corporate or nonprofit settings. Individuals will have the freedom to take full ownership of particular domains or projects, with minimal supervision or bureaucracy, and to be able to pitch directly to the CEO without having to go through several layers of management. These transitions also are leading to a decentralization of our economy as we shift from the practice of ownership to a shared-use economy. Personally owned assets, including spare bedrooms, appliances, and cars, are now operating as new revenue streams (i.e. www.airbnb.org).
In an effort to focus on the broad array of innovations and new technologies, outlined below are a number of these emerging products and services that will have impact on the broader society as well as the Jewish community:
Interactive Whiteboards by PolyVision
|Area of Innovation||Type of Product/Service||Implications for Jewish Community|
A revolution is underway in connection with how we will move both products and people.
|Delivery Drones||Change means for providing/delivering products.|
|Hyperloop||Connecting communities and institutions through an efficient and rapid system.|
|AV (Autonomous Vehicles) Self-Driving Cars||Changing how individuals will be able to more conveniently move.|
New technologies are beginning introduced to offer alternative methods for promoting travel
|Virtual Reality (VR) Micro Experiences||Low cost, high quality experiences, leading to fast, inexpensive travel/educational programs|
Through an array of inventions, the market will be producing new options that have medical and mental benefits
|Matrix-Like Virtual World||“Advancements in nanotechnology will make it possible to plug our brains into computers and live in a simulated world.”|
|Eye Glass Technology||Body devices that monitor vital signs|
Improving the ability to create more efficient work production has led to newendeavors in connection with AI and Robotics
|Artificial Intelligence and Robotics||Will revolutionize how business will be conducted|
|Cyborgs||Links people’s brains to computers, using such technology in order to turn people into part-machine, part-human.|
The capacity to expand online learning opportunities may accelerate the numbers of learners
|MOOC (Massive Open-on-Line Courses)||This new modality in class offerings will fundamentally revolutionize higher education|
New building materials will revolutionize the construction of buildings and communities
|Super Tall Buildings and Self-Contained Cities||Will alter the notion and nature of “community”|
|Smart Building Material||Access to alternative uses of bio-degradable products|
|Hydrogen||Re-usable energy/ electricity storage|
Virtual finance will replace the traditional role of money
|Bitcoin, Virtual Currency and Digital Wallets||Will fundamentally change how business will be conducted, creating a virtual economy|
The materials introduced above represent only a small percentage of the emerging new modalities that will be marketed. In areas such as agriculture (Synthetic Biology, Closed Loop Aquaculture Systems); medicine and health (DNA Mapping/Targeted Drugs); energy (Solar Energy); and culture (AI-Synthesized Music), one can find numerous technological breakthroughs and business opportunities.
At this point the significance of these new technologies can be not be fully measured. Yet, by 2020, it is predicted that over twenty-five billion devices might be connected to the Internet. Many of these and other new technologies are being developed in Israel, adding another distinctive Jewish connection to these extraordinary changes that will impact the lives of millions.
Just as the new economy enters the public marketplace, futurists worry about the end of privacy and an increase in surveillance. What steps need to be undertaken to protect the rights of citizens?
Many of these new offerings will further isolate individuals, leading to disconnected or silo work settings. What is likely to be the impact on the human psyche?
A significant number of workers will be displaced as a result of the introduction of these new technologies. What policies will be required to help retrain and assist Americans and others who will be adversely affected?
Is there a problematic side to this story? Will our moral compass be challenged? Will some of these technologies undercut core values of our society? How will Jewish tradition inform and assist us to embrace this new age?
Full disclosure, I am a “techno-peasant,” uncomfortable with even the basic rudiments of my computer, phone, or other household devices that seem to show up on a regular basis!
Nevertheless, Windmueller, get ready, as this tsunami of technological change will represent the most transformative and uncertain moment since the Industrial Revolution, so hold on or possibly let go!
The prospects for innovation are endless; their impact will be transformative on a global scale, fundamentally re-ordering how we live and operate in the world of the 21st century. The specific implications for Jewish institutions and their work remain uncertain. Can in fact organizations prepare themselves and their constituencies for these new structural and social realities?
Steven Windmueller Ph. D. on behalf of the Wind Group, Consulting for the Jewish Future. Dr. Windmueller’s collection of articles can be found on his website: www.thewindreport.com.