Viewpoint 12 | Developing Leaders Issue 29: 2018 Digital Overload A Leadership Challenge W herever you look, people are talking about a new world about to revolutionise our lives. For some it’s a threat but for most it’s a promise of a life of leisure, combined with satisfying, meaningful work. It’s the new world of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI is being heralded as the wonder technology which is going to take the remaining drudgery out of our lives. We won’t have to deal with stupid people any more because they will have been replaced by ‘intelligent’ technology that can make better decisions, provide more effective services at a fraction of the cost. Cars will drive themselves, robots will care for the elderly and expert systems will replace the family doctor. Boring routine work will be automated and we will be left with the fun creative tasks that only humans can do. The futurists may well be right. We’ve already seen a revolution in retail with the decline of the High Street and the growth of Amazon. We no longer need intermediaries such as travel agents and insurance brokers. We can find what we want with the help of Trip Advisor or a comparison website. Banks are closing down branches as everything moves online and estate agents are being undercut by Internet based alternatives. But what’s happening more generally in the world of work? There have been many predictions over the last 20 years that a work revolution is around the corner. Computers would take over many of our jobs and radically change those that remained. The internet would enable us to work wherever and whenever we wished and robots would replace manual labour. The pessimists predicted mass unemployment and civil unrest. The optimists predicted a life of leisure mixed with satisfying work and a happy family lifestyle. Who was right? The move into the digital age hasn’t so far seen the collapse of employment. As we’ve replaced manufacturing jobs with robots and shop assistants with websites, new jobs have appeared to replace the old ones. These may be in different locations and possibly part-time rather than full-time, but employment levels have remained stubbornly constant (at least in the UK). Nor have we seen a revolution in working practices. Yes, the number of people working flexibly has grown, but so has the level of stress in the workplace. Instead of the three-day working week we see long hours cultures. Instead of improved work- life balance we see always-on technology interrupting family life. Instead of meaningful engaging jobs we see high levels of disengagement. The promised life of leisure in the Digital Age hasn’t materialised yet. By Peter Thomson