Last updated: 29 Sep 2016
This week, I had the privilege of being a panelist at the latest round of the Bloomberg Thought Leadership Series on HR Innovation.
Despite being neck-deep in the space, I felt very humbled by the experience and expertise in the audience. The hosts and my fellow panelists were all extremely knowledgeable and willing to share – one of the great joys of events like this for me is meeting and learning from such personalities.
The highlight of the event for me was the eye-opening keynote, delivered by Mr Steve Monaghan, Regional Director – Head of Edge, AIA; futurist, savvy investor and all-round nice guy. I consider myself relatively up to date with the latest technology and applications, and found myself nodding at many of the ‘bleeding-edge’ developments Steve covered.
Three things stood out for me about his presentation:
1. Change happens slowly, then suddenly
This is a concept that is familiar within technology circles (reflected when companies ‘cross the chasm‘, in the terminology of Geoffrey Moore). However, explaining it graphically was refreshing, for an economist like me.
While Steve showed a generic chart, it reminded me of this one:
Before the lines intersect, before a critical mass of users, before a certain marginal cost threshold, incumbents always have the upper hand. However, whilst they have this advantage, it also diminishes their incentive to innovate disruptively.
Past the intersection point, however, is where things get interesting. Adoption at a massive scale happens almost overnight, as apart from early adopters few would have access to the iterative changes left of that point.
Steve did share this chart, displaying the history of camera sales, and the tipping point created by the smartphone camera.
The scale beyond 2006 starts to exceed any conceivable acceptable dimensions of an image, so I’d urge you to check the original chart out at this link.
Finally on this theme, the cost of genome sequencing is projected to fall exponentially, and within less than a decade (I may be remembering this wrongly) it could cost less than $0.03 per person. Interestingly, this was shared to be less than the cost of flushing the toilet in some countries.
2. Driverless cars and Uber
The news about Tesla’s fatal driverless accident has brought this topic to the fore in recent months. Yet, despite the publicity surrounding the incident, the probability of a fatal accident happening in a driverless car is still far below that of a car driven by an actual human.
Steve pointed out that if the safety statistics for airlines were anywhere near as bad as that for driven cars, no one would step into planes.
The combination of Uber and driverless technology promises to increase vehicle usage up to 80%, from the current 3%. This more than 20x increase in utilisation would have tectonic disruptive potential in the automotive industry – potentially this could drive down car sales by 90%+.
Reflecting on this, the ripples would be felt in many other areas too. Urban planning has always had to factor in the vehicle population – Certificate of Entitlement (COE) growth rates and prices have always been slightly politicised in Singapore and the source of much angst. In cities like Houston, USA, 30-35% of land area is dedicated to parking. The sudden reallocation of land to other uses could significantly improve citizen welfare, over and above the reduction in air pollution.
3. Artificial Intelligence: The Robot Revolution is Here
The third big area of interest (also very relevant for us at EngageRocket professionally) was in Artificial Intelligence, or AI.
Beyond advances in data science which may, ironically, soon threaten jobs among data scientists, some interesting applications that Steve brought up came from healthcare and image recognition.
In healthcare, what stuck with me was the ability of machines to diagnose health issues just from ‘listening’ to our voice, among a suite of other technologies that can improve the ability to diagnose and treat disease. The implications on the healthcare and insurance markets are significant. The promise is faster, cheaper, and more accurate treatments, leading perhaps to prolonging the average human lifespan even further.
In image recognition, Steve mentioned a recent development that had computers better than humans at recognising and sorting images. Baidu’s Minwa supercomputer outdid the typical human in sorting images, for example distinguishing between different species of dog. It achieved an error rate of 4.58% across millions of images and thousands of image categories. The average human, in comparison, achieves a 5% error rate.
Views from the Panel
Mr Vincent Romano, Managing Director at Elliott Scott, held court as the panel moderator. His incisive questions bridged the glimpse into the future with what that meant to the HR community.
It was an honour to field those questions with the two distinguished panelists:
Mr David Miao, Head of Global Data APAC at Bloomberg; and
Ms Juhi Singh, HR Business Partner at AXA Singapore
Interestingly, there was quite a bit of convergence around the question of whether AI would replace HR in the future, with consensus around the need to re-skill and re-train towards activities where humans hold a distinct advantage. My personal view is that it depends heavily on whether our humanity – with its emotions, cognitive biases and heuristics – helps or hinders the work of HR.
At EngageRocket, we grapple everyday with the question of whether AI can replace people management. While we are yet far from a conclusive answer, I’m confident that discoveries that we make along the way will push the frontiers of management as a science. Hopefully, we strike a happy medium where humans and computers complement each others’ unique abilities, and create happier and more productive workplaces for all.
Many thanks to Tamara Sigerhall, Malinda Zerefos, Vandna Ramchandani and Janice Foo for making the event possible, and for generously allowing me to participate!
Note: Views expressed in this post are those of CheeTung’s, and do not in any way represent those of any other party mentioned by this piece or not.
Author: Chee Tung
CheeTung is the CEO of EngageRocket, an HR tech startup that analyses employee feedback in real-time to advise you on how to build a better culture, one team at a time.