Sentient ToolSignificant advances in technology and shifts in economies and culture are bringing about a new age of intelligent tools that are aware, can make sense of their surroundings, and are socially cognizant of the people who are using them.
Sentient tools are the next step in the development of computational systems, Smart Cities and environments, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence (AI), big data and data mining, and an interconnected system in the Internet of Things (IoT). These tools are 'what comes next' and come from a base of computational, sensing and communication technologies that have improved over the last 50 years.
The 'consciousness' of these conscious tools is not comparable to a human level of consciousness. They are not intended to mimic, mirror or replace human interaction. These tools are designed for specific physical and virtual tasks that can be enormously complex, but are not meant to replace people. Conversely, they are intended to work alongside the human workforce. The emergence of sentient tools will have a significant impact on the global workforce and education, leaving virtually no sector untouched.
Sentience is defined as the ability to perceive the world around us and derive feeling or meaning from those experiences. For a machine or tool, the ability to derive meaning means that the tool is capable of some level of perception, processing and thinking. In this case, perception is both the ability to sense the world around the tool and to process, understand, give meaning to and communicate with that world. To deal effectively with that world, the tool needs to be socially aware of the person it is working with. It must understand the person as an individual, so that it can communicate more effectively.
A Sentient Tool consists of 4 specific components:
- Situational awareness: perceiving the outside world through local and networked sensors, as well as sharing data and expertise
- Intelligence: Process, understand, learn, understand the world
- Social awareness: Understanding who it works with
- Communication: The ability to communicate with people through multimodal interactions such as voice, image, sound or haptics.
Sentient Tools may have specific abilities that are greater than human abilities (e.g. mathematical calculations, physical strength, etc.), but initially they will not be designed to completely replace human labour. They will simply be tools designed for a specific task to be completed by humans.
However, these technological advances will have a huge effect on the labour market, causing massive destabilisation and job losses. Technical analyst and commentator Rob Enderle addressed the effects in an article for CIO.com "Initially, these tools are not specifically designed to replace people, but to complement them. However, they will quickly evolve to replace people who perform similar functions. for example, paralegals, research assistants, clerks, junior accountants, analysts, assistant drivers, warehouse workers, delivery people and a cross-section of the remaining human assembly work."
3 possible futures
- No industry unaffected Like the PC revolution and the expansion of the Internet, the implications for Sentient Tools will affect almost every industry. Travel/Mobility and Transportation, Defense, Manufacturing, Medical, Construction, Agriculture, Customer Service, Smart Cities, Finance and the entire Information, Communications and Technology sector.
- Employment is changing radically The nature of human labour is changing. Unlike the other technological revolutions that have created technological jobs, the era of Sentient Tools will also create demand for non-technological skills along with technology-based jobs. These tools will greatly automate middle-skilled jobs and create a significant demand for high-skilled, knowledge-based jobs, creating a knowledge GDP in the future.
- New approach to education needed To make the best use of these new tools, the workforce must be trained to work with tools that think, using these tools to highlight what people are really good at. Learning will have to be activity-based, rather than content-based and exam-based.
The next decade of Sentient Tools looms on the horizon in our future. This coming age will bring enormous opportunities and equally enormous threats and destabilisation. Recognising the confluence of these technologies is the first step. Next, individuals and organisations must envision both the future they want and the future they want to avoid. Simple steps and preparation taken today will have a huge impact over the next decade.
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