By Teri Riddle

Are We Approaching
“Peak Human”?

Social Justice

The much-discussed fourth industrial revolution is upon us, but what does it mean for the future of humanity?

When I was in high school, I remember watching science fiction movies about machines taking over the world and thinking “never in my lifetime.” But here we are, on the brink of another seismic transformation that is changing the way we work, live, and connect with each other. As we consider the impact of various forms of artificial intelligence, such as self-driving cars and drones, and the human capacity to adapt to these rapid technological changes, we begin to see the systemic disruptions that are once again at our doorstep.

So, what do we mean by the fourth industrial revolution? In its simplest form, it is the blurring of the lines between humans and technology. According to Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, “the scale, scope, and complexity of this revolution will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”

In March, I had the privilege of being invited to a Learning Journey at the World Economic Forum in Geneva with fifty global leaders, including host Paolo Gallo, Chief Human Resource Officer for the WEF. The overarching topic was the impact the fourth industrial revolution will have on business, leadership, government, and people, and how it is changing the future of work. Some of the insights I took away from this thought-provoking day are:

#1 – We are living in an emotionalized society rather than a rational one, where people are looking for “new stories” to restore their moral compass and regain hope for the future.

#2 –  Reskilling workers will be critical, as 35 percent of the core skills needed for success in the fourth industrial revolution will change by 2020.     
(The top ten new skills include: complex problem solving; critical thinking; creativity; people management; coordination; emotional intelligence; judgement and decision making; service orientation; negotiation; and cognitive flexibility).

#3 – Toolkits for helping leaders manage change are needed, as people and organizations navigate multiple, complex transitions simultaneously.

#4 – Significant advances in the “care economy” are unfolding, as eldercare and childcare present some of the highest job growth areas.

#5 – Fundamental shifts are taking place in how work is organized, as we move from organizations that contain work and employees to organizations that aggregate work and enable shared talent platforms.

#6 – Some believe we may be approaching “peak human” (the maximum limit of human capability), as robots replace humans and better and more affordable healthcare is delivered through new technologies and fewer doctors.

There is a lot of debate about all of this—are these positive advances or not?  According to Stephen Hawking, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”

But Rollo Carpenter, creator of Cleverbot disagrees. “I believe we will remain in charge of the technology for a decently long time and the potential of it to solve many of the world problems will be realized.”

Some questions are also emerging for the Crossland Group team:

  • How could our assumptions around this dialogue result in people feeling less valued instead of worthy of our attention?
  • Are we over-amplifying this “revolution,” given that many industries and jobs have been replaced by other significant shifts, e.g., automation and the impact on the working class?
  • Can these shifts actually open the doors for the brightest minds to do great things, as their chosen “safe” professions get disrupted?
  • What attributes can’t be replaced by artificial intelligence—emotion, engagement, creativity, or curiosity—and what does that mean for the evolution of career paths?

At Crossland Group, we know that our fundamental purpose—why we exist—is at the very heart of this transformational change. We have been helping leaders more effectively manage rapidly changing and disruptive environments for the past twenty years—and we are betting on humankind’s ability to adapt and evolve. Humans have the rare gift of being able to offer generative responses that address systemic root causes. They can build a common intent by listening with both their minds and hearts wide open. And humans can co-create a better future by leveraging the quality of intention and acting from the “whole person.” This is the secret sauce of Crossland’s work—unleashing a collective leadership capacity to meet global challenges in a more conscious, intentional, and strategic way.

Whatever you might believe about the fourth industrial revolution, one thing is certain—we have to co-create a future that leverages the best parts of humanity and keeps people at the center. Our world and assumptions are changing fast and it is incumbent on all of us to figure out ways to adapt to our environment in order to ensure this next revolution is a positive force for good.

About the author

Teri Riddle builds meaningful relationships to enable leaders and teams to achieve tangible results.

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