Saturday, April 13, 2013

People Power

I know, the title sounds kind-of retro, something from the 60’s, but let’s not go there.  I read and write a lot about machine power and how machines are increasingly taking over roles in society that were iStock_000006081888XSmallpreviously thought to be human only.  As this inevitable trend plays out, it will be increasingly important to be crystal clear about the role of people in the economy and society in general.  We seem to be on an unwavering trajectory to a highly automated and robotic future so why not leverage that likelihood to the people’s advantage.  Let’s be sure to keep our roles up front and center in this brave new world that’s unfolding.

“In the years ahead,” Rifkin wrote, “more sophisticated software technologies are going to bring civilization ever closer to a near-workerless world. Race Against the Machine (Kindle 118)

I remember as a kid hearing about some utopian future where machines did the work and people sat around enjoying their leisure.  That doesn’t sound too bad actually.  However, a good part of what drives us humans is the need to contribute in meaningful ways to meaningful initiatives.  Work is actually a innate need built in to us.  I love my job, it’s exhausting, stressful, but super fulfilling at the same time.  It’s part of my purpose.  I suspect most people deep down feel the same way so let’s not give it all away to our machines.  So, what might the future of people power be in an automated robotic future?

When people are enabled, supported, and networked, great things tend to happen.  The mixing of ideas amongst diverse people results in breakthrough innovations.

“The history of the modern world is a history of ideas meeting, mixing, mating and mutating” Rational Optimist (kindle 3806)

We need to design new physical work spaces and practices with mixing and true collaborating in mind.  Google is on to something at their GooglePlex facility if the stories we hear are true.  They have funky open collaborate spaces, slides between floors, game rooms, and swimming pools.  Perhaps we can’t afford spaces like this in our schools and School Board offices but certainly a less institutional design would be helpful.  In my visits to new schools in Vancouver such as Kitchener Elementary, I’m encouraged by the new design thinking.  This school has varying sized classrooms clustered in learning communities that include shared learning spaces that spill out into the halls.  Rooms open up between them to make larger spaces when necessary.  There are larger commons, small nooks, benches built into walls below windows, spaces that spill outdoors, etc.  It’s important to work on the needed shift in practice with teachers so they can maximize the benefits of funky learning spaces like this.  Often schools skip the culture preparation step and these spaces end up being used as traditional classrooms are and the benefits of mixing and learning in new ways, are lost.  It’s important for kids to learn to mix ideas, work collaboratively and cooperatively, to be creative, to be allowed and encouraged to think outside the box, to learn to push the boundaries and not learn in containers.  This generation will be faced with a automated machine run future in the 2020’s and 2030’s and it is imperative that they learn to maximize people power, through togetherness.  Learning from school contexts, how can we disrupt and rejig our office spaces?  How can we help our work teams shift to new models of mixing, learning, collaborating, and maximizing their collective wisdom?

This is not the wisdom of the crowd, but the wisdom of someone in the crowd. It’s not that the network itself is smart; it’s that the individuals get smarter because they’re connected to the network. Where Good Ideas Come From (Kindle 678)

Add new or future technologies into the mix and we get an amplifying effect.  Technology in its bare essence is an amplification tool.  We need to expand our networks.  In physical spaces we can only connect, learn, and work with so many people, maybe a few dozen actively.  But through current and future social networking tools, the possibilities to mix and connect are limitless.

“The more knowledge you generate, the more you can generate. And the engine that is driving prosperity in the modern world is the accelerating generation of useful knowledge.”  Rational Optimist (Kindle 3466)

I recently visited with a teacher in our Vancouver Learning Network (VLN) school – an online, sometimes blended, model of schooling.  He took me through the Desire 2 Learn (D2L) learning platform showing me how courses are created and how students access them, how teachers get analytical data from the tool, etc.  D2L even checks the work students hand in online for plagiarism automatically through TurnItIn and gives a color coded percentage indication of a problem (machine algorithms at work).  Although D2L is a powerful tool for online learning, I think we need more immersive ways to connect learners.

Tools like ActiveWorlds and AvayaLive Engage will continue to evolve to the point where the blur between reality and virtual will be indistinguishable.  I believe these types of environments will increase people power on a global scale.  Once they get past the gimmicky game feel to a real world experience but also taking the advantage of a place where anything is possible, people could be enabled in ways unimaginable.  As the people, from around the planet, work together discussing new ideas, imagining solutions to new problems, machine intelligence would be at the human’s beck iStock_000013746771XSmalland call to put their ideas into products and solutions (virtually) at no significant cost.  I want this!  I prefer to operate in the idea space more than the build-it space.  With a place that can implement your ideas in a flash, you could rapidly prototype with virtually located colleagues and speed up the idea to prototype process significantly.  Attach future 3D printers that can leverage a vast array of input materials and produce products of varying sizes in super high resolution, and ideas can go from collective brains to virtual prototypes to actual products of all shapes, sizes, and purposes in a very short time. 

In the future, people power will likely never include grueling brutal physical labor, rather it will mean relationship forming, thinking, idea storming, communicating, cooperating, and creating.  Our machines will assist us in this but also take on most or all of the physically taxing labor.  This future will free us to meet our physical needs through sport, exercise, and connections with the outdoors rather than through often harmful physical work.  Here’s to the Power of People!