Work has always been the cornerstone of human existence. Our value as individuals, organizations, communities and even country states is defined by our productivity at our places of work. But while we’ve been chasing productivity improvement for millennia, we’ve only truly mastered exponential improvements in the last couple of hundred years. Why is this, considering this is something humans have been chasing for the last 4,000 years?

Ultimately, it comes down to the instruments, or the tools, we have to do work. Each industrial revolution ushered in new tools that shaped the work environment and introduced new levels of productivity. Think of the rise of steam power and mechanical automation in the 19th century, which transformed the UK into a manufacturing powerhouse. Or electricity, which initially gave us the lightbulb and allowed our workplaces to operate at all times of the day. And what about the binary computer, which gave every man and woman in our organizations the calculative ability that was previously the preserve of only the intellectual elite.

Step Change in the Way we Work

But today, fully ensconced in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we prepare to get to grips with the greatest digital build-out humanity has ever experienced. The coming tech revolution will fundamentally shift the way we live and, most importantly, the way we work. Our new tools for work will open up levels of productivity, insight, automation and ease of use that would have previously been considered science fiction.

Just think of our most basic interaction with the modern work environment: the keyboard and the touch screen. Very soon, the keyboard will have the same nostalgic feel as the rotary dial telephone. Imminently, our working days will consist of a series of terse voice commands. “Siri, print this page for me.” “Cortana, open a spreadsheet and work out the standard deviation of my latest sales figures.” Our home smart speakers are on the cusp of growing up, putting on a digital suit (or hoodie!) and joining us at work.

New Realities in the Workplace

Our places of work are set to expand, as well – exponentially. The ways we connect to our digital colleagues, customers and partners are set to become supercharged through new technologies. Imagine sitting in your self-driving car, wearing a virtual reality headset, digitally “walking” next to your colleague as he leads you through the latest updates to your organization’s smart factory.

This type of interaction will be the reality of our future working lives due to the emergence of 5G internet connection, coupled with edge computing. South Korea was the first country to roll out 5G and has been closely followed by others, including the U.S., Sweden, Turkey and the UK. Edge computing is also gaining traction, with global spending on the technology expected to reach $11.2 billion by 2024.

Whole New Levels of Computing

What about the processing power at the heart of these innovations? The change in this area – and the implications thereof – will be massive. In the near term, we’re on the brink of exascale computing (computers capable of a quintillion calculations per second), with the Argonne National Laboratory aiming to launch its exascale supercomputer, Aurora, in 2021. Exascale computers will provide the spark for more intelligent AI, make predicting crimes a reality (Minority Report comes to life!), as well as 100% accurate cancer diagnoses.

Then, as Moore’s Law finally starts to fail us (likely expected by 2022), quantum computing will step in. D-Wave, IBM and Intel are at the forefront of bringing quantum out of the lab and into our lives. The implications of this new computing power are difficult to predict and could well lead to “artificial general intelligence.” And yes, we might have an Ex Machina-style robot in our offices in the next two decades.

Our working lives are set to change drastically over the coming years, moving from a state of frustration with our productivity efforts to an abundance of productivity. Leading this step change will be the changing tools we use to get the work done.

Join us for our live video webinar, “Thriving Amid the Ever-Morphing Future of Work.” Futurist Ben Pring, VP and Managing Director of the Cognizant Center for the Future of Work, leads a frank and thought-provoking conversation on how to anticipate and adapt to key future-of-work challenges and business opportunities, informed by recent research from the Center for the Future of Work.

Michael Cook

Michael Cook

Michael Cook is a Senior Manager in Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work in EMEA. In this role, Mike identifies the... Read more