What’s hype and what’s real in futuristic workplace tech?

The rise of the cyborgs

It used to be we worried that we might not be able to prepare our children to do jobs that hadn’t yet been invented. Now that seems like a nice problem to have compared to the alternatives: no jobs for our children to do because the robots will be taking over.

Robots are already working farms, vacuuming, and looking after grandma. IBM’s Watson is already delivering better diagnoses than human doctors, and your child hasn’t even got into medical school yet.

But the world hasn’t run out of room for creative problem-solvers using technology to help them. As well as computers to help us in the office, we’re going to have 3D printers, small bots, and drones. They’re not going to take over our jobs. They’re going to help.

Sure, if they can do your job, they will. Cyborg jobs are the ones a computer can’t do on its own. Start identifying them in your organization now and train accordingly.

More help from artificial intelligence (AI)

Even Google’s Mustafa Suleyman, who co-founded an AI startup bought by Google, says we’re decades away from AI replacing human workers on a large scale. But helping them is another matter.

AI is already here to help you solve problems that involve too much data for humans to grasp in a meaningful way. “Deep learning” AI systems will dive into the data to find patterns that we mortals cannot. The cloud is making this sort of AI accessible to organizations of all sizes.

Google, for instance, uses deep learning to make data centers more efficient by cutting down on the amount of energy used to cool servers.

Taking work out of this world

We all want virtual reality (VR) at work, say the surveys. But will we have to wait as long for VR as we’ve waited for our jetpacks? Maybe not.

The barriers around the price, content, and distribution of software tools are lower than ever before. Developers are sloshing around in funding, but the road to mass adoption is long enough that Gartner has put VR within its tech hype cycle.

It’s a tough sell: you need hardware, which is pricey and still in a VHS vs. Betamax stage, and it’s not that easy to use when you have it. Maybe you desperately want one for gaming at home, but with IT budgets flat, there are other priorities at work.

Unlike other technologies that fail to take off, however, many, many potential applications for VR are well-known and highly desirable. While factors like cost and market readiness are exerting a chill, the future is definitely still coming.

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