Over the past year, we’ve all had experiences that have changed us. They will leave a lasting imprint on how we conduct business, do our jobs and live our lives.
For me, that was especially the case a few months ago at PwC’s annual Emerging Technology Exchange. Like just about everyone else, we had to pivot and make the annual gathering of senior execs, academics and tech innovators virtual. While it was initially disappointing not to be in person, exploring how the next wave of tech can bring business value, ultimately it proved to be truly transformative.
That’s because we came together in collaborative virtual reality (VR). It enabled us to experience emerging tech — learning about the powerful idea of people and tech convergence — from right inside of emerging tech. This unique vantage point enabled us to internalize the idea that it’s never really about the technology; it’s about putting people at the center. The goal? To make us better, augmenting and improving our individual and organizational capabilities.
In collaborative VR, this idea came to life. Technology created the space for us to do more meaningful work than the typical video conference. It enabled us to be more present, interact without worrying about social distancing, collaborate in group activities as if we were in the same room, and gain access to innovators around the globe. And it was fun! (I even had the chance to ride a giant dinosaur built by the MIT Media Lab team at the event.)
Collaborative VR is one of many human-led and tech-powered examples that are starting to redefine business. At the Exchange, we looked at four other powerful human-tech combos that got us thinking about the future of work.
1. Working autonomy
This idea describes an advanced kind of automation where people can focus on what they do best and the machines can take care of the rest. We saw this in Moxi, a social, mobile robot that’s designed to work alongside nurses, delivering medications, personal protective equipment and lab samples. Moxi really resonated personally with me because my mom was a nurse for 40 years, and I know she would have loved having an assistant like Moxi that would have helped her spend more quality time with patients.
2. Hyperconnected networks
Data is at the core of everything we do, but humans are limited in our abilities to collect it and make sense of it. That’s why smarter and faster (and often safer) ways to gather and process it are so important. The Skycatch drone data platform made that clear. In mining, construction and other heavy industries, drones can quickly and accurately collect data that is then sent to an edge computing device that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to quickly create 3D models. Project managers, geologists and other specialists can use these to help make timely decisions, avoid costly mistakes and explore what-if scenarios.
3. Immersive interfaces
We’ve gotten used to the voice assistants that control our phones or our home devices. But the team from the Fluid Interfaces group at MIT’s Media Lab really helped us understand how new ways of interacting with tech can make us better humans. This isn’t about doing something more quickly or less obtrusively; it’s about helping us see others’ perspectives or gaining new confidence and insight. We saw the flip side of deepfakes: Using AI to generate synthetic media that put us in someone’s shoes (virtually) could help us learn new skills, become less biased or cultivate healthy behaviors.
4. Upskilling with velocity
Given the accelerating pace of tech change, most corporate leaders have an upskilling agenda. At PwC we started that journey more than four years ago, and it’s something we’re passionate about, having seen firsthand how our people and organization are embracing the future. We took those learnings and used data and technology to help others do the same. ProEdge is the result. Powered by 3 billion data points about corporate skills — and continually updated — the upskilling platform is a one-stop shop for both business leaders and employees. Use comprehensive data to target the skills your company needs in the next few years; set a plan for your functions and teams; and give employees a place to learn, practice and thrive on their own terms.
The time spent immersed in the technology of the future was exciting and thought-provoking. We can’t let our thinking around the art of the possible recede as day-to-day realities set in. We should all continue to challenge ourselves to explore how we can use technology to do more — for our people, our businesses and our communities.
In particular, we should think about trust and its relationship with technology. On the one hand, technology can be a powerful enabler to building trust by removing barriers and facilitating transparency. At the same time, technology has the potential to damage trust if it’s not responsibly used and managed.
So, let’s start there. As you begin looking at how transformative technology like collaborative VR, social robots, drones and smart data platforms can usher in your future of work, consider the trust dimensions in everything you do.
For our part, PwC will continue our commitment to building trust in this new world. In fact, our most recent Exchange a few weeks ago was devoted to the topic. Stay tuned for how other business leaders are navigating issues of trust we face today and will confront tomorrow.