What Work Will Be in 2036

Somewhere I read that 20 years from now the typical office worker’s daily tasks will consist of what today really smart people are doing in their spare time (I really wish I could remember where I read that).

I decided to test that out by evaluating the work being done in companies with which I’m familiar.  The majority of work in terms of hours spent seems to be done by these types of employees:

  • Customer support representatives (CSRs)
  • Finance/accounting clerks and analysts
  • Sales people chasing leads
The tools they use consist of:
  • Email
  • Spreadsheets
  • Phone
So, what were the smart people doing 20 years ago that corresponds to what these people are doing today, in 2016?  I can’t say I was one of those smart people, but I was around in 1996 and I was beginning to work more and more with technology.
According to this article, in 1996, the internet had 10 million active users (although this article says it was 20 million) and about 35 million people used email, and Americans with internet access spent about 30 minutes a month surfing the web.  I’m sure it was about that time that I got my Juno email account.
At work, the IT department was connecting our PCs on a network using Novell’s Netware, so we could have shared file folders and shared printers.  Our email was also networked creating corporate address books and near-real-time communication with co-workers.
I remember this image:
In the late ’90s I got my first PDA, a Palm Pilot, the first versions of which were launched in 1996.  It’s hot sync feature allowed me to carry with my my email, calendar, and contacts.
So, smart people in 1996 were playing around in their spare time with internet protocols, network protocols, portable devices, personalized technology, synchronization technology.  Today, in 2016, the people who spend a lot of their hours in an office doing relatively mundane, non-creative tasks rely heavily on the tools and technologies that were in their nascent stage 20 years ago: email, SaaS applications, smart portable devices, real-time data synchronized across platforms, apps and devices.
Want to know what the majority of workers will be doing in 2036? What are smart people doing in their spare time today? These are the things that come to mind:
  • Drones – breaking through the barriers to transport at the micro- and personal-level. Also, allowing for even more ubiquitous and real-time observation, eliminating physical isolation
  • AI – bringing to bear Watson and Google’s equivalent learning capabilities to any and all problems
  • Nano – technology at the neural level
  • Virtual reality – eliminating the advantages of geo- co-location
  • Virtual linguistics – removing language barriers
  • Blockchain – raising security around financial transactions
So, I spend 40 hours a week in 2036 working for a company that provides financial services (banking, retirement savings, lending, credit, etc.).
  • I communicate with vendors/suppliers and customers from any location around the globe in their language of choice at their time and using their media of choice
  • Financial transactions happen in near-real-time
  • They know as much about me as I choose to let them know
  • I know as much about them as they choose to let me know
  • I receive real-time feedback about their level of stress/anxiety, comfort/satisfaction, clarity and confusion, along with suggestions for personalized catering to their needs
As a Product Owner, 20 years is too long for any type of roadmap to extend.  But seeing that far out, I can start to ask myself what milestones might I imagine along the way, in 2018, 2021, 2025?  These are certainly outside my current release planning horizon, but can still spur me to think of solutions and features much differently.
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