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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Keynote speaker Ross Dawson discusses the future of work

Keynote speaker and futurist Ross Dawson speaking at the Charles B. Wang Center on Oct. 23. Dawson believes that technology and machines are drawing out our fullest potential in terms of human capabilities. GARY GHAYRAT/THE STATESMAN

The future is unpredictable, but we know that it is going to change dramatically, futurist and keynote speaker Ross Dawson said during his “Leadership for the Future of Work” lecture at the Charles B. Wang Center on Monday, Oct. 23.

Dawson, the author of multiple books about human networks including “Living Networks,” said the structures, disciplines, organizations and types of work will change greatly in the future.  

“Whatever we prepare ourselves for now, we have to be prepared for that to change again,” Dawson said. “So, adaptability needs to be something that we instill in our children, universities and educational institutions.” He said the fundamental differences between humans and machines are going to play an important role in redesigning future works, where humans’ unique capabilities play roles that are complementary to machines, and vice versa.

“Every single job, including that of a CEO can be partially automated; there’s almost no jobs that can be fully automated,” he said. Dawson predicted that we will have a better understanding of ourselves in the coming decades through the power of technology, including the ability to shape ourselves through genetic engineering and human augmentation, which is the overcoming of human limitations through technology. “We’re moving closer and closer [to a point] where we will not be able to discern between humans and machines,” Dawson said. He added though, that, “machines are forcing us to be more human than ever before.”

“The prospects are exciting,” Manuel London, dean of the College of Business, said in an email. “Mr. Dawson highlighted the value of a college degree to prepare for a career, or indeed more than one career, that will require continuous learning.”

Humans, and especially organizations, need to recognize the potential of individuals, develop that potential and draw out people’s fullest humanity in terms of capabilities, creativity and relationships, Dawson said. Having a deep understanding of knowledge within a given context is a unique human capability that machines cannot emulate. Creativity and imagination are also intrinsically human. “This applies to certainly, very obviously, the arts and humanities, but I would argue that science is a deeply creative domain,” Dawson said. “In order to be able to, not just know which directions to push, but how to be able to find a new possibility, make the connections, discover new ways of thinking about the world which we live in… these are all deeply creative domains.”

Dawson also noted the role crowdsourcing platforms like Topcoder and Stack Exchange play in peer learning and social learning. Through these platforms, which focus on contests and question-and-answer formats in computer programming, people can learn how to be experts and be seen by the nature of their work. The ability to learn, is a fundamental capability, Dawson said. “[The] less people can learn, they will not be able to succeed.”

Vice President for Communications and Marketing and Chief Communications Officer Nicholas Scibetta has worked with Dawson for many years. “Universities or higher education are really in this interesting time of how are we, as Ross said, how are we helping students to be prepared to go into a very complicated and fractured work environment,” he said. 

“Folks were very interested in hearing his view on that, as a global futurist; what did he think we needed to be paying attention to as we move forward,” Scibetta said. “Not only as a university, but just as individuals and as humans.”

Dawson said one of the skills needed in the future is design. Designing interfaces between technologies and humans, making sense of the data collected to support decisions and understanding human emotions is all crucial, he said. He gave the example of the increasing demand for personal trainers. “If a robot tells you to do another 10 push-ups, you’re not going to do that,” Dawson said. “Whereas, if someone you have emotional engagement [with] tells you that, you’re going to… respond to that.”

Linda Meise, a retiree from Riverhead, said Dawson’s lecture was “equally inspiring and terrifying.”

“I hope that humanity rises above its current level of discord and small-mindedness,” she said.

In a Pew Research Center study, which Dawson cited during his lecture, experts were asked whether Al and robotics would create more jobs than it would destroy. Of those who participated, 52 percent  envisioned a future where more jobs are created than lost, whereas 48 percent envisioned more jobs lost than created. Dawson said both of these possibilities are equally tangible, where the future of work may follow a negative trend or a positive one. But he remains hopeful.

He said he believes that if we do the right things, we will be able to “create a more positive future for work and society in the face of extraordinary technological change… It is our choice.”

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