When thinking about the future of work, it’s easy to be sucked into a negative viewpoint. AI will take your job! Social media is destroying our social lives! The world is doomed! Luke Clark, co-founder of Singapore’s leading business “storyhouse”, CP5[i], takes a more nuanced view. Yes, challenges lie ahead, and the tech industry needs to tread with more care than it has until now. But there are many reasons to be positive.
As you read through Luke’s responses to our questions, that’s certainly the message that comes through. And this is a man who has seen the world. A New Zealander, Luke spent a decade working in the travel trade space for TravelWeekly, before embarking on a four-year adventure as editor and project lead for Discovery Channel Magazine.
Most recently, he spent three years as the Asia-Pacific content lead for Michael Page, during which he wrote and ideated the group’s banner future-of-work brand, Tomorrow’s Talent[ii]. Now, he is Chief Executive and co-founder of CP5. It provides story services for some of the world’s biggest brands, including a new series dubbed ‘The Last Mile’.
To find out how Luke sees the next decade shaking out, read on.
What are the major factors influencing the future of work?
Too many people in 2023 are doing their best to live their best lives despite technology – not thanks to it. The reality is that far too many, ominous headlines this year are announcing how technology is going to interrupt our lives, and essentially replace our jobs. And we are somehow supposed to thank tech for the privilege.
As more evidence points to the increasing role of technology in making us less happy[iii], more divided[iv] and more anxious[v] as people, the technology industry’s response to the rapid rollout of generative AI, so far appears to me to be at worst tone-deaf, or at best, over-hyped[vi]. From many companies, there’s been an almost zealot-like adherence to the ‘rightness’ of tech disruption, which openly celebrates the idea that business leaders can and should cut staff and cut costs.
Yet perversely, the sector currently shedding the most jobs this year, is technology itself. Which to me is reflective of an industry that has lost its previous cachet – and lost its revolutionary ‘for-the-people’ spirit. Has technology also lost sight of its true purpose – and is instead fine to adopt a “for-business, despite-the-people” mantra[vii], which ordinary people clearly don’t want or need? I hope not. Whatever the case, being the industry that scares people the most, is not something to be wholly proud of.
Who in tech do you find inspiring, and why?
I would have to say, Steve Jobs. At the time, he understood the potent role of the maverick in toppling the orthodoxies of his years. The Jobs brand was all about the potential for technology to grant us ‘freedoms’ that we’d never imagined before.
He was of course far from perfect in practice, and his treatment of those who got in his way would today be viewed very differently. But you have to say, he inspired so many, particularly because he was able to fail, bounce back, and learn palpable personal and professional lessons along the way.
As a hero’s journey, Jobs’ journey is rightfully a favourite. I admire Bill Gates too, though mainly for what he and his ex-wife Melinda achieved after their technology days, particularly through their philanthropic work with developing countries.
And do you find any of today’s tech leaders inspiring?
In the science sphere, there are modern-day heroes such as those in the Pfizer-BioNTech teams[viii] who worked against the clock on completing the first widely accepted Covid vaccine, demonstrably savings lives. Sadly, you could argue that technology’s main contribution to that breakthrough was in providing the infrastructure for so many to spread global disinformation about the vaccines, through social media.
As for modern tech leaders, I think in these increasingly polarised times, the mixed fortunes of those like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk, show how technology has to many, become more about the removal of some of our much-vaunted freedoms, thanks to the abuse of data rights by companies like Facebook.
Or the huge waste of time and potential that has been Musk’s handling of buying Twitter – which he has puzzlingly rebranded as “X”[ix]. To me, neither Zuckerberg nor Musk will ever approach the impact of Jobs or Gates. And thanks to highly-publicised tech scandals such as Theranos[x], we now seem to expect far less of technology to vastly improve our lives than we once did. Which I think is sad.
What is a recent example of technology disrupting work that you found interesting?
I think the pandemic had a massive influence on us all when it came to technology adoption and the overnight idea that we could adapt, and for a time even prosper after the unthinkable happened.
It’s important, I think, to understand however that technology doesn’t overwhelmingly disrupt work until we reach a time when tech’s offering, and society’s needs, align successfully. The pandemic was clearly that sort of time: and while it was at moments overwhelming and confounding, the sense that we could collectively achieve the impossible, was truly palpable.
I think in sharp contrast to that, the overwhelming response to the rollout of generative AI, and what I see as a lot of needless fear and negativity, is coming as a result of a technology industry seemingly out of sync with society’s needs – or just thinking people must ‘catch up or die’.
Despite the very real fear that many of ChatGPT’s original designers are raising for instance[xi], it seems that technology and people are on a collision course over AI – and I don’t think the results will be positive for either tech or the general population.
Is there any science fiction story that, in your view, successfully predicts the future?
Released in 2017, Bladerunner 2049 foresaw a future dystopia where digital records were mostly lost ‘way back’ in 2022, thanks to a huge electromagnetic pulse that wiped out nearly all of them[xii]. It reminds me a lot of today’s global picture around work, data and AI.
Technology prophets seem determined to undermine human jobs and lives today – in the interests of a promised humanoid robotics ‘revolution’ in 20-30 years’ time, which could supposedly create more jobs than are lost in the short term.
Yet meanwhile, climate change looms today as a real-life disaster movie just waiting to happen: or more accurately, happening at scale already. Thankfully for our part of the world, new solar energy is now as inexpensive as ever. But as for the world’s biggest market, the United States? Its political classes can’t even decide whether we have a problem or not.
How do you think the work office will change in the next ten years?
It’s amusing to me that since the Mad Men era of the 1960s and 70s, today’s mobile phones now collect so many items once considered essential for modern humans – from the phone to the Yellow Pages, to music, maps, books, TVs, clocks and cameras. Yet when it comes to work, we still can’t escape our office, the nine-to-five job, and the terrible commuter crushes it creates throughout the world.
Will offices change significantly in our lifetime? I think many will aspire to not work in one. Yet most will succumb until they work out a strategy (or gain permission) to make freedom their reality. Hybrid working is here to stay for now. But without the office, the reality is that many companies will not be as effective as before: and that unity and shared purpose will become harder things to create and maintain.
Which areas of society do you think will be more impacted by technology?
Technology will play the biggest role in the future of positive ageing and aged care. Certainly, if current predictions are to be believed, within 30 years, the humanoid robot could be as ubiquitous to the average Western home, as the car is today.[xiii]
What that increasingly means is that traditionally isolated people in our society, will not only have access to basic home help en masse but that these humanoids will be able to act as both daily companions, as well as avatars for the provision of personal care and health advice.
In the meantime, as technology’s rapid path becomes harder for us to resist, the most important task we face is in becoming better humans. It is one reason I appreciate the work of someone like writer and futurist Adam Grant.
In books like Think Again[xiv], Grant challenges all of us to think, and specifically rethink, for ourselves. “Thinking again can help you generate new solutions to old problems and revisit old solutions to new problems,” Grant writes. “It’s a path to learning more from the people around you and living with fewer regrets.”
For more on the future of work
Our thanks to Luke for taking the time to share his thoughts on the future of work. For more predictions, read on:
- Simon Long, CBRE Southeast Asia: “How do we create work environments and a culture that actively brings everyone together?”
- Clarence Ding, Simmons & Simmons: “A data scientist in Singapore is likely to face competition for their job not just from the local market, but from other very high-quality candidates in other countries”
- Michael Bayer, CFO, Wasabi Technologies: “We need to invest now in the jobs and infrastructure of the future”
- [i] https://cp5.co/
- [ii] https://www.michaelpage.com.sg/advice/career-advice/career-progression/future-technology-advice-technology-job-seekers-across-asia
- [iii] https://www.forbes.com/sites/danpontefract/2022/05/19/is-technology-causing-our-unhappiness-yes-and-no/?sh=227715951bbd
- [iv] https://hbr.org/2021/07/how-to-close-the-digital-divide-in-the-u-s
- [v] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/5-ways-technology-is-making-us-anxious/
- [vi] https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/dont-get-distracted-by-the-hype-around-generative-ai/
- [vii] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/14/technology/generative-ai-global-economy.html
- [viii] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/10/business/biontech-covid-vaccine.html
- [ix] https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/23/business/elon-musk-twitter-logo.html
- [x] https://apnews.com/article/elizabeth-holmes-fraud-theranos-prison-silicon-valley-9552b17d0c03f81c71b53fb4a994462b
- [xi] https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2023/05/24/chatgpt-openai-artificial-intelligence-regulation/
- [xii] https://variety.com/2017/film/reviews/blade-runner-2049-review-1202576220/
- [xiii] https://www.macquarie.com/sg/en/perspectives/are-we-turning-a-corner-on-the-humanoid-robot-age.html
- [xiv] https://adamgrant.net/book/think-again/
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