The Future Impact of Information Technology at Work – 2016

Work is very important to most people, whether they have it, the quality of their job and the rewards that it provides are a substantial part of the quality of people’s lives. The impact that information technology will have on jobs is an area of extensive discussion, especially as information technology becomes more pervasive. Microsoft present a vision of a vibrant connected workplace:

The Pew Research Institute reported on the current use of technology at work late in 2014. They detailed how technology was being used and suggested how that might develop in the future. Overall they concluded that information technology was more important for office workers and that it made them more productive. 7 % said that the internet made them less productive and 35 % said they spent more time working because of the internet and cell phones. The Pew report provides useful information on how jobs may be changing. The “Future of Work Show” provides examples of how technology is impacting workplaces – this example is from SAP and there are other episodes of the series on Youtube:

The impact that information technology may be having has been extensively discussed over the past year. The MIT Technology Review Business Report produced an edition that was focused on the Future of Work. It looked at a number of important areas including how work was changing, the areas of job growth and decline, the impact of automation, technology’s impact on the gap between rich and poor, the use of data analysis in management (especially to more closely manage performance), the impact on older workers, new forms of employment (including online, self employed jobs), changing job skills and the impact of sharing. This report highlights the wide range of areas that are included in the discussion of the impact of information technology on people at work today. It also highlights the concerns that exist about how work may be changing and how this will impact people’s lives. This was the topic of a recent World Technology Network discussion:

There remains uncertainty and conflicting views about the impact that information technology will have on workers. Some people are optimistic but others believe that there are significant threats and that action needs to be taken.

The Open Society Foundation commissioned the Roosevelt Institute to prepare a literature review on the debate over the future of work “Technology and the Future of Work: State of the Debate”. It reports that some argue that the negative aspects are exaggerated and unlikely to have substantial impact (see Robert Gordon). Others argue that we are seeing now, and will see significantly more disruption to work in the future (Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee are examples of this). Frey and Osborne have said that 47 % of American jobs are at risk as a result of automation over the next two decades. Robert Gordon and Erik Brynjolfsson debated the future of work in 2013:

The debate also covers how technology might affect specific jobs. The Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioural Sciences at Stanford University, in collaboration with the Pacific Standard, looked at this area in a series of articles in late 2015. Their “Future of Work and Workers” project researched the views of workers, employers, researchers and others on the impact that technology might have and what might be done about it. They have argued that more work is needed to influence the quality of technology impacted jobs. The Economist considers the impact that technology will have on mid skilled workers:

Andrew McAfee echoes these concerns about “media workers”:

Concerns in these areas exist for governments internationally. They have seen indications that jobs are being impacted and some are starting to respond. The European Union, Australia and New Zealand provide examples of this. The Social Europe Journal’s autumn 2015 edition looks at a number of topics that are being considered at a political level including the role that government should play in influencing the future nature of work. This video is from an Australian conference where the future of work and organisations’ responses were discussed.

The Oxford Martin School is focused on the future and looked at the impact of information technology on professional jobs, including the type of workers and jobs that will be in demand in this presentation of the work of Richard Susskind and Daniel Susskind. Their work is important in considering and understanding how technology might influence work that is commonly thought to require human expertise:

The impact of information technology on jobs has caused some to consider that people may spend less time working than they have in the past. The Atlantic included an article recently that looked at A World Without Work.

This post has reviewed some of the recent discussion on the future impact of information technology on work. Views range between optimism that impacts will make work easier and more pleasant for most as computers take on routine tasks, to very negative concerns about the quality of the jobs for the few who will be employed.

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