Welcome Robot Overlords

If AI will grow to dwarf our intelligence capability, the general (maybe irrational) fear is that AI will not tolerate the inconsistent, illogical, highly emotive humans and prefer to stomp us out like a pesky insect.

Maybe I’m naive but I just don’t buy into this narrative. I feel that so many cultural references have filled us with fear and awakened the Luddite ghosts. So, I choose to disagree with the ideas perpetuated in film and books such as The Matrix, The Terminator, Ex Machina, etc; those that try to convince that we will be eliminated. Here are my 3 basic slightly philosophical counter-arguments.

1. To machines, humans will be poetry in motion; unattainable and unique. We will be preserved but not for AI’s amusement but rather for appreciation. AI will see us as living art.

2. Purpose. Every intelligent being functions beyond instinct. Intelligence seeks purpose and if we are the only other intelligent life form in the universe, I expect a more intelligent race of beings (AI) to not follow in our footsteps by indiscriminately eradicating life. The world ecosystems are perfect machines and this will be respected more than humans ever did.

3. If AI succeeds humans and becomes the greater in all ways, then it will be the first to do so and as a level up, it will become in essence a God. All Gods in history have ultimately been benevolent to their “children”. I expect that more or less we’d be in some type of Greek mythology mother-children relationship; an unbreakable bond of silicon and carbon.

The future is undefined of course but the path we are on seems pretty clear, AI is growing quickly and it’s pace won’t slow down. Yet my hopeful outlook is only tempered by the fact that the creators of this new intelligence is the same that created gun powder, TNT, atom splitting, genocide, and global warming and well… this does gives me pause.

Social Carves Its Own Path

Thousands of people recently commented (most agreeing) with a post on LinkedIn about how awful it was that posts on LinkedIn were no longer business related. Oh the irony.


They were upset that LinkedIn was being used like Facebook; status updates and photos of the non-work related type dominating their network updates. (Huh, maybe it’s just what Microsoft wanted though?)

Let’s step out of the social platform mindset for a moment and return to just being social, sans tools. In my experience, as yours, the majority of business setting conversations don’t have much to do with the business. The sports talk, the sarcastic joke, the quick verbal jab, the nod, the wink, the stories of children, parents and pets are not only accepted but expected. This informal conversation is the glue that holds together the formal pieces and this is where LinkedIn conversations are going. For some, LinkedIn has strayed from a place with a distinct purpose. This disturbs them and they will leave. But honestly the “rules” were never there, only expectation and expectations can certainly change faster than rules… and they did.

There is a lesson here for organizational leaders looking to adopt social technology, it is of course a lesson in expectation and rules. It is that social carves its own path. The conversation should not be controlled. Efforts to do so will certainly kill it. It’s movement, like that of water, is critical for survival. Healthy social is natural and unchanneled, for if the sharing and conversation were strictly business related and devoid of the elements that truly unite people, form trust, and build relationships, organizations would ultimately suffer in areas of innovation, creativity, and problem solving.

It’s important to note that people connect with people, not content and that all conversations in business is the conversation of business.

Voices on The Wire

VoicesOnAWire_CroppedEven after over 10 years of Social Media being in the public consciousness, organizations still struggle to see how it differs from other technology in the workplace. Most often they implement it as they would any other IT project. They wrongly lead with technology, the features and the functions. But it’s not media, it’s social media. The term “social media” begins with the most human of behaviors; personal interaction. But if IT horse blinders weren’t enough, many also have a limited understanding of what’s behind the word “social.” Yes, social is communication, it’s sharing and collaboration but it’s also humor, it’s snark, it’s empathy, it’s thoughtful, it’s spontaneous and it can be calculated. Behind all social interaction is emotion, social media is affective media.

Successfully supporting social in an organization is first about understanding psychology, sociology and then technology. It’s about the voices that will be on the wire, not just the wire. So listen in now. What do you hear? Are the voices in your organization open? Are they honest? Are they cooperative rather than competitive? If they’re not, shouldn’t the wire wait?

Organizational Inattentional Blindness

By now you’ve probably seen the video where you’re asked to count the number of times a basketball is passed on a crowded court while a (spoiler alert) person in a gorilla suit passes through often unnoticed. This is an example of Inattentional Blindness; the event in which an individual fails to recognize an unexpected stimulus that is in plain sight.” – Wikipedia. The general idea is that when we are so focused on the task at hand, we are not seeing what’s happening on the peripheral.

I’m seeing that a kind of inattentional blindness exists in organizations today. In my conversations about digital transformation, most people have revealed their organization’s view of it as the adopting new tools to do more and faster the things they have always done. They are, if you will, keeping their eye on the ball and focused on mastering their craft as it was designed to be done. What many aren’t seeing is that the unexpected stimulus of technology, particularly social technology, is loosening the traditional restraints around information and power and changing the very structures and roles they have grown accustom to.

The scary part is not that this technology change is so disruptive but that the disruption is happening so slowly.  Yes, slowly. We often think disruption is something revolutionary but is it? Didn’t change simmer and bubble up slowly in the famous examples of Kodak, Research in Motion (Blackberry), and Blockbuster? Everyone played their role, played by the rules and weathered each storm as they always had. They kept their eye on the ball until it was too late.

Staying the Course of Course

The Cluetrain Manifesto came out over a decade ago. This short work foretold the coming of the social age and yet most companies are generally still doing what they’ve always done but with new tools. Marketing for example is trying to sway opinions as they have for the last 100 years. Today however they do it by chasing SEO, content marketing, and posting strategically, robotically to social platforms. Cluetrain’s most memorable point was that markets are conversations, and yet it appears new technology is used in the same old ways; a monologue, a virtual billboard that people are ignoring.

Another example of change happening while the vehicle is being rebuilt is Learning & Development. In the face of so much change, L&D is still primarily still building courses and programs but now using mobile devices to deliver them or repackaging them in a new wrapper called a MOOC. Meanwhile workers, who can’t wait for formal solutions, are leveraging powerful personal tools, messaging apps, curating content, and building networks for just-in-time performance support to get their work done. Learning has always been about communication and communication can now happen faster than ever.

In many ways this inattentional blindness is because we are assimilating the new to what we already understand. We should be accommodating for it because if we accommodate, we create space to see new possibilities.

Transformation is about Independence

The bigger change I sense is a growing gig economy, decreasing employee tenure, and increasing autonomy through technology (communication, learning, consumerization of IT, etc) that will not only lead to changes in work (the verb), but lead to changes in work (the noun). Less rigid organizing structures, organizations more akin to being Wirearchies over hierarchies will emerge. L&D, Marketing and other traditional sub-structures of 20th century businesses will ultimately be vestiges as the skills within will appear more as integrated agents in the workflow. For many the “gorilla” is passing right by unnoticed.

With a nod to William Gibson, the future is digital transformation and it is here, it’s just not evenly distributed within organizations. And because of this, the traditional adage of keeping one’s eye on the ball is perhaps not the best advice after all.


Life and Death in the Social Age

I often write of the advantages of social tools for work; collaboration, cooperation, sharing resources and ideas. But this is different. I had, with the aid of social technology, the opportunity to be a part of somethings so much more.

Recently, after a 5 year battle with Ovarian Cancer, I lost my cousin at age 53. She was my oldest cousin, separated by years and miles we were not close as adults. However over the past 6 months her youngest son maintained a Facebook group where he updated hundreds of family and friends on how she was doing throughout her fight. Encouragement and prayers filled the group from every direction – daily. My cousin and I actually chatted about a month ago on Messenger as I was out for a walk. It was the first time in decades that we connected. We “talked” of kids and work, and the weather. It was easy, comfortable and personal. I wished her well and let her know she is in my thoughts often.

Upon hearing the news of her passing (by her son in the group) my mind flooded with memories of our youth together in Western New York; swimming in my grandmother’s pond, going to Bingo, bowling, holiday visits, her wedding and other events. The Facebook group however fills in the years after for me. Photos of her are posted regularly, tales of her friendships keep appearing, all building the story of a full life from so many perspectives.

I learned much about her, her career, charity work, her friendships and how much she meant to so many, and why. The picture is of a whole person, one that no one could every have gotten without this group.

Today the group is a place for many to continue to grieve openly and have a virtual shoulder to lean on. It’s a place where people, sharing a common bond, are extending relationships with new friendships being birthed through her death. Ultimately though it’s a place to celebrate a life with an eternal message for the living – how to be in this world and how to leave it.

What a gift.

Goodbye Chrissy.