Alec Ross is one of America’s leading experts on innovation. Serving as an American technology expert for both the political and technological elite, Ross helps leaders better understand the implication of innovation and market disruption. Most recently recognized as a New York Times best-selling author of, “The Industries of the Future,” Ross describes the changes that are going to impact our future, for better or worse. Chief Learning Officer’s associate editorial director Kellye Whitney caught tup with Ross via email.
Chief Learning Officer: What are the primary forces driving the changes we see disrupting the marketplace?
Alec Ross: I would cite two major drivers: digitization and the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning. The full force and effect of digitization still has not hit us. As I write these words, we live in a world of 16 billion networked devices. In four short years, that number will be 40 billion. The rise of AI and machine learning will mean that technology will be able to do work that is not merely manual and routine; it will increasingly be able to do work that is legitimately cognitive and non-routine.
CLO: What opportunities does that create for businesses? For individuals?
Ross: The combination of mass digitization and artificial intelligence/machine learning will enable knowledge workers to spend more time doing work that is creative and stimulating, and less time doing routinized tasks that steal countless hours from the most valuable form of work and, for that matter, from our lives. For businesses, we can expect there will be another period of increased productivity that allows them to provide a higher number of higher quality goods and services at decreasing cost and in a shorter period of time.
CLO: How do organizations effectively prepare for a future that is uncertain, constantly changing and prone to bouts of disruption?
Ross: First, get rid of the industrial age model of a rigidly hierarchical workplace. The ability to adapt an organization in the face of fast-paced change means that diversity — broadly defined — is necessary. Senior leaders need to listen to people who just graduated from college, who may have a closer-to-the-ground perspective of the changes to come. Second, remove the word “impossible” from your vocabulary. The future will be imagined and invented by those who reject conventional views of what is possible in the world and in our businesses.
CLO: What’s the role of learning in this environment? What can corporate learning professionals do to make their leaders and their workforce more ready for the industry of the future?
Ross: In the future, when a person goes to work, one of two things will happen: the worker will tell a machine what to do or a machine will tell the worker what to do. In order for corporate learning officials to help future-proof their leaders and workforces, they need to identify and develop those knowledge-sets and skills that are most important in a world where computer code is doing the work that was once done by humans.
CLO: What innovations do you see coming to education?
Ross: I think the field of education has a long way to go in terms of innovation, but I am hopeful. My expectation is that innovators from the technology world will partner with learning specialists who have deep domain expertise in pedagogy, and together they will develop platforms and tools that will enhance the learning environment that blends the best of what technology can do with the best research about how people learn. This kind of interdisciplinary approach to education is what will unleash innovation.
This interview will be published in the April issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine. Alec Ross will be speaking at CLO Symposiuim17 on April 25 at 1:30 p.m. with his talk, “Foreseeing the Next Big Innovations and Marketplace Risks".