One of the greatest challenges of futures studies is the “so what factor.” Forecasts can be believable and often very compelling, but most people draw a blank when it comes to identifying implications to one’s life or organization. It’s a difficult mental challenge that can leave your right brain reeling.
This is why I’m so impressed with the article “The Singularity’s Impact on Business Leaders: A Scenario” in the current issue of The Futurist magazine. The singularity is a forecasted time when the pace of technological change will be so fast and far reaching that human existence will be irreversibly altered. Our brain power – the knowledge, skills, and personality quirks that make us human – will be combined with our computer power in order to think, reason, communicate, and create in ways we can scarcely even contemplate today. But you don’t need to reschedule your vacation – we’re looking ahead to approximately 2030.
You may be retired in 2030 (ish) but your children likely won’t be. (In fact, retirement is becoming an obsolete concept but that’s for another day). If your son or daughter are (or will be) knowledge workers the singularity may make their career very wierd. It will divide human leadership and followership into two distinct categories – those who will be “Enhanced Singular Individuals” (ESIs) and “Norms.” Your daughter may work with a colleague whose parents wanted to give him every advantage. Foregoing higher education, they took advantage of the accelerating development and convergence of technologies such as nanotechnology, bioengineering, supercomputing, materials development, and robotics. As a result, he became a ESI, making him a valuable asset to the organization but a real pain to work with. His highly advanced physical (he works 80 hours a week), psychological (he is always in a good mood), social (he can read other people’s thoughts and adjust his behavior accordingly), and mental development (he has the ability to generate mental models of higher orders of complexity) make for an organizational development challenge. For example, your daughter may not know if he is a ESI or a Norm. The organization has a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding human enhancement.
Today we grapple with Generation Y in the workplace. The next HR issue may be those pesky ESIs. But a more immediate implication of the singularity may be knowing that the money you’re saving for your child’s higher education may be spent otherwise – on the most advanced application of human-machine interface.