Joining us for this week’s Virtual Speaker Series session, tech expert and innovation speaker Amber Mac led a fascinating presentation on three major trends that are accelerating during the COVID-19 pandemic. These trends tied back to broader developments in artificial intelligence and the internet of things, which she saw as major drivers of the next wave of technological transformation.
Throughout her informative talk, Amber highlighted the pace of change over the past six months. Among the many areas that have seen disruption during the pandemic, e-commerce is a flagship example of how quickly transformation is occurring. Amber pointed to a report that showed the field of e-commerce has compressed five years of expected progress into the past handful of months. This was a good reminder, she said, that change—whether in tech, business or society—shows no signs of slowing down, even as our daily lives have been disrupted. However, Amber said, it’s also important to remember that we are good at adapting to change even if it can feel challenging at times.
With the introduction to the importance of these trends and our current fast changing tech landscape established, Amber moved on to the trends that she believes are key to understanding and engaging with in the current moment.
One of the more obvious results of burgeoning AI technology is the increasing reliability and sophistication of voice-activated items. In particular, Amber pointed to smart speaker systems—like Amazon Alexa and Google Nest—as a type of product that is quickly becoming adopted as a mainstay of many people’s homes. She pointed to statistics that showed close to 40% of people in Canada using some kind of smart speaker in their home, and 50% of all searches done in 2020 being done by voice command.
Amber argued that this is a good thing, as voice-activated products generally allow for greater accessibility, both in terms of ease-of-use and affordability (a $50 speaker vs. a $800+ smartphone). She said that we are entering a voice-first era of tech, at that it’s important to keep this in mind whether it’s in regard to the development of products, or SEO and design of online content. Amber also pointed to this increasing usage during a time when so many people are working from home means that it’s quite likely we’ll see offices move to using more voice-activated systems in the future as people return to more traditional workspaces.
To learn more and keep up on the latest news, Amber recommended the website voicebot.ai as a hub for research, educational material, and general discussions around this technology.
Machines in the Wild
Next up, Amber’s choice for the second trend to watch closely revolves around autonomous systems, devices, and robots in day-to-day life. She pointed to autonomous vehicles, robots that aid in care for patients at long-term care facilities, and automated greeting systems at establishments (i.e. devices taking and providing info at hospitals entrances and storefronts) as examples that are actually much closer to being ready for mainstream use than we might think. Other examples, like automated delivery drones, may still be some years away from being fully ready for regular use. Still, major corporations are investing heavily in their development and we should expect to see expedited progress in this area, again because of the effects of the pandemic.
So, what does this all mean? Amber offered the results of a study that showed workplace labour currently sits at a split of 71% done by people while 29% is handled by automation in some form. That same study expects the split to be close to 50/50 by 2025. This means that many jobs are at a risk of facing serious change in the coming years but, it’s important to remember, she said, automation and AI doesn’t necessarily mean jobs will be replaced but tasks will be replaced. Amber argued that this trend is going to see the value of human judgement rise, meaning that our abilities to analyze, create, and problem-solve will be much more important in our automated future. At the same time, she shared a report from the World Economic Forum that showed the many jobs at risk of being lost by automation are actually outweighed by the new jobs expected to be created in return.
This trend, Amber said, is a good reason to innovate and try new ideas. With such major shake-ups on the horizon, now is a good time to get creative and she recommended the book Loonshots by Safi Bahcall as a great read on the big, unexpected ideas that have transformed our world before.
For her final highlighted trend, Amber moved on to one that is probably most relatable to all of us: remote work. Easily one of the areas most obviously affected by the pandemic, it was a growing trend even before the arrival of COVID-19. Amber said that 48% of employees are expected to continue working remotely after the pandemic ends and people can safely return to their traditional workplaces, so it’s important to understand that this is a major change and one that is likely permanent for almost half of us.
Besides grappling with this idea and considering the large scale impacts it will have on commercial real estate and the like, Amber highlighted some of the more personal-level impacts it’s having. She said that studies are showing a growing trend of workers logging longer hours now that the traditional barriers to in-person work have disappeared. This, along with the impacts of the pandemic itself on mental health, is leading to a general push for wellness among employees by many companies. Organizations are adding subscriptions to apps like Calm and Headspace to their health portfolios. Amber suggested that organizations strive to cultivate team wellness, and make sure to build time into the day for people to have a chance to breath among Zoom meetings and other deadlines.
To help aid in this effort to maintain mental health, Amber suggested taking a look at “8 Ways Managers Can Support Employees’ Mental Health” in the Harvard Review of Business.
Considered by many to be the go-to expert on anything to do with technology, Amber Mac helps companies and audiences to stay ahead of the curve. She is an industry veteran, renowned as a journalist, moderator, entrepreneur, consultant, and bestselling author. Whatever the setting, Mac offers clarity of understanding and a passion for digital innovation in all forms.
Speakers’ Spotlight has been offering virtual presentations since 2009. We work with a range of speakers who are comfortable with presenting virtually on a variety of topics. If interested, contact us for more information.