Machine and human

It’s sometimes worth looking up from the day to day routine and thinking about what is over the horizon. This applies to us all as individuals, just as much as it does to the managers and leaders set over us. What will it mean, for example, for humans to thrive in the age of the machine?

London Business School professors Andrew Scott and Lynda Gratton are wrestling with this in a fascinating new research study.  It builds on their bestselling book about longevity, ‘The 100-Year life’ that has been translated into 14 languages and is credited with jolting the Japanese Government into taking steps to address the issues thrown up by its aging society.

Taking a 100-year view of human lifespan opens up a broad debate on work and life. People are asking about technology and its impact on longevity. “They’re beginning to realise how interconnected things are,” observes Scott.

I’m of the view that the story is not about technology, it’s about the people. Those of us working in the digital transformation of businesses in Africa are learning that’s as true here as anywhere. Digital transformation is all about imbuing your business culture with new behaviours that are empowered by technology. Faster decision-making; anticipatory customer service; collaboration between traditional silos.

There’s already an element of fear underlying  the debate, prompted by luminaries like

Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking warning of a turning point when humanity risks losing control of the technology it has created. However, human intelligence and soft skills are still necessary as they will dictate future artificial intelligence. A critical role for humans will be to ensure that EQ (Emotional Quotient) balances IQ (Intelligence Quotient).

For roughly a century, life in established economies has followed a predefined pattern: a three-stage progression from education to work to retirement. One benefit of living longer is that, with more productive years, the range of individual choices is extended. It also makes some choices more critical. The obvious one is ensuring adequate material resources to support a long and active old age. It also puts an unexpected premium on intangible assets such as networks of family and friends, something Africa still has in abundance.

In education, technology is already placing extraordinary learning resources online, much of it free. In the next few years, Gratton and Scott see the education sector “exploding”’ to meet new kinds of demand, moving from part-life to all life, and from a fixation on university degrees to other kinds of upskilling credentials.

Humans have the benefit of insight. That’s always enabled us to build agendas and act upon them. We don’t have to accept what happens to us as destiny – together we can shape it.

Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa.

His book ‘Marketing Medicine’ is now available worldwide on

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