I don't know if you are in the same boat, but I have the feeling that right now the digital future is knocking unmistakably loudly on our door. The contours of what it might look like are sharper now than they were in the old year. The appearance of ChatGPT in January created a hype around AI, artificial intelligence, and on 5th June Apple has launched Vision Pro and «opened the age of spatial computing» giving the metaverse a more immediate face than we've seen before.
In the following, I try to contextualize digitalization, artificial intelligence and ChatGPT as well as spatial computing and the metaverse and to crystallize what this could mean for companies and organizations with respect to their future readiness.
Digitalization and automation
This was the big topic 5-6 years ago, there was a lot of speculation about which jobs would be replaced by machines and what that would mean for the labour market. The new study «The Future of Jobs» from the World Economic Forum provides a comprehensive picture of where we stand today. According to it
- the proportion of tasks performed by machines will continue to grow rapidly (the study assumes growth from 34% today to 43% in 2027),
- nearly a quarter (23%) of jobs change completely over the next five years (this is the aggregate number of new jobs and the jobs that are eliminated), and
- technology is the biggest driver of both job creation and job displacement, whereas the effect of both is positive.
For workforce strategies this means it is imperative that companies look at accelerating automation, invest in on-the-job training, and transition existing staff from declining to growing roles.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) and ChatGPT
«AI is the ability of a machine to imitate human abilities such as reasoning, learning, planning and creativity», according to the European Parliament's definition, with «imitate» probably being the most important word: machines can only ever simulate something based on data. In this sense, they are not intelligent, but simply very efficient, and as ChatGPT shows, this leads to amazing capabilities when a correspondingly huge amount of data is available. I was at an excellent event on the topic the other day and here's what I took home:
- AI has been used intensively for a long time, but until now it was an insider topic.
- ChatGPT shows to the general public what it can do in text generation and DALL-E in image production.
- The question is not if, but how ChatGPT, DALL-E and similar systems are used.
- Text and image processing industries will change, new skills are required, whether this «only» changes jobs or also destroys them is a matter of debate.
The current hype is a good opportunity to renegotiate and redefine the copyright and declaration issues. Because for texts produced by ChatGPT we neither know the text sources nor is a fact-check part of the product. The same questions arise for DALL-E produced images. The high-quality «fake pictures» are practically no longer recognizable as such.
Spatial Computing and the Metaverse
In a Delphi study by Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies (CIFS) from March on the evolution of the metaverse, 66 experts concluded that «By 2030, our virtual and physical worlds may have merged in a way that we freely navigate between them in our daily lives, with AR and VR technologies becoming more accessible and affordable, and with users becoming more comfortable and confident in living immersive digital experiences». The addition of «sceptics believe in this vision but think it will take longer» also underscored unity on the issue, and only questioned the timing.
Now when Apple unveiled the Vision Pro and proclaimed the «age of spatial computing» I can visibly imagine the Metaverse for the first time and how far the technology has already progressed almost knocked my socks off:
- With Vision Pro you can move freely, cameras capture the environment.
- It doesn't need any additional impulse; you control the apps and screens with your eyes.
- As a private person, Vision Pro can be used as a home theatre, movies and also photos can be viewed in 3D on large virtual screens.
- Professionally, it is a good home office tool, Vision Pro not only replaces screens for video meetings and conferences, it can also be used to edit documents, for example.
- Perhaps video telephony will be the killer application in the long run? Instead of the small screen, you now see your counterpart in life-size and top 3D quality on Face Time.
- The technology is rated between very positive and impressive by the people who were able to test the device, even though there are still issues, such as the battery only lasting two hours or nausea and headaches that can occur after wearing it for too long.
- The price ($3500) suggests that Vision Pro is initially intended for developers, technology nerds, and professional use. There are a remarkable 34 million developers worldwide tinkering with applications for Apple's products today. Who knows what applications are still to come? This community has already contributed significantly to the success of the iPhone and the Apple Watch.
Vision Pro won't change our world from one day to the next, and the device won't even be available before 2024, when it starts in the U.S. But it clearly demonstrates that the metaverse world, in which the virtual and physical worlds merge and we can freely navigate between them, will probably become reality before 2030.
Three crucial questions
- Digitization and automation: Is it presumptuous or an exaggeration to predict that, in view of the demographically induced shortage of skilled workers, this will soon be seen as a blessing rather than a problem from the perspective of the labour market?
- Artificial intelligence and ChatGPT: A revolution is currently spreading in text and image processing. Isn't it just a matter of time before it impacts not only the industries in question, but virtually all businesses?
- Spatial Computing and Metaverse: Until now, as an outsider it has been possible to view this topic somewhat unencumbered. Is 5th June 2023, the day Apple unveiled the Vision Pro, the day that companies begin to seriously, strategically, perspectival and systematically address the virtual world of the metaverse and embrace the topic, not overnight, but nonetheless?
It is as clear as daylight: The Future of work is a much bigger topic than the question «office or home office», and it will remain a hot topic for many years to come.
Strategic Foresight must become mainstream!
After my first project in 2005, it was not so easy for me in each case to convince why Strategic Foresight is not a «nice to have» but a «must have». In view of the current changes, I can no longer imagine a future-ready strategy without prior Strategic Foresight by any stretch of the imagination. That is why today, in 2023, it is actually simple: everyone knows that these changes are structural, many have an opinion about what they may mean, but no one can predict them, and no organization can escape.
In this situation, there is no better way than to come up with different scenarios, draw the right conclusions for each company and switch from adaptation mode to design mode. Strategic Foresight has the power to do this, and to future-proof a strategy in our complex and disruptive world, and moreover to bring the leadership team together to shape the future together, rather than constantly and disunited adapt to change. And the good news is: it's not rocket science, Strategic Foresight follows a simple, systematic and structured process. I can assure you of that, because I know, I have done it, successfully, many times.
PS Let the future lead your way – the best in life is yet to come.