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DSC Weekly Digest 10 August 2021

  • Kurt Cagle 
Entering the Work From Anywhere Era

The Future of Work: Where Will We Work?

The most baleful aspects of the Pandemic seem to be behind us, though the emergence of the Delta variant of the COVID-19 virus is causing companies to question whether it is perhaps too early to shift operations completely back to the office, and months turn into years, the likelihood of a hybrid work model emerging as the dominant approach to work is becoming more and more likely.

This has a major impact upon the shape of work, especially for knowledge workers including data scientists, programmers, designers, and others who work primarily with information systems, as well as those who manage them. As machine learning systems become more integrated into day-to-day activities. Other areas that are also being transformed include education, in all its varied manifestations, entertainment, supply chain management, security, manufacturing, even criminal activity. 

As this process plays out, it is forcing a re-evaluation of nearly all aspects of work, including what productivity means in the AI era and whether or not such digital transformations (including Work From Home / Work from Anywhere) is beneficial or harmful to the economy. New DSC Columnist Michael Spencer, editor-in-chief of The Last Futurist, explores this theme in detail in this newsletter, asking whether the digital transformations that we’re seeing will come at the cost of local economies disappearing, especially in the entertainment and service sectors.

The entertainment sector is transforming in ways that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. Salesforce this week announced that they were launching their own business-oriented Streaming Service, even as companies such as Gamestop and AMC are on death watch on Wall Street. We are continuing the process of transforming atoms to bits then making these virtualized atoms transmissible through ever-faster networks. Scarlett Johannson took Disney to court about royalty revenues lost to streaming, which is likely to send shockwaves through the entertainment sector as creators use the opportunity to renegotiate how such creativity is compensated as the traditional movie theater gives way to the virtualization of location. At the same time, Disney’s last major animated project, Raya and the Last Dragon was completed almost completely from the homes of the various animators, editors and other creatives, to the extent that we may not be far from every actor having a green screen room in their house. 

Even in the service sector, the skills required (and the demands upon workers) are changing. Delivery has become the next sector to face automation, requiring the coordination of thousands of drivers and fulfillment specialists through the use of highly complex networked systems, often managed through the same kind of tracking tools formerly reserved for large-scale software projects. There is a generation of DIY home manufacturers who are becoming adept at managing such supply chain and distribution issues, and that in turn is shaping how (and where) business gets done.

Ultimately, what is happening is that geolocation is ceasing to be as major a factor as it once was, while at the same time I think that we’ll see the pendulum swinging back towards where local business should be. In my town of Issaquah, here in the Pacific Northwest, the local restaurants along Main Street (or Front Street, in this case) are now seeing more and more patrons, as are the barbers and hair salons, and even a bookstore or two after a few decades of them being destroyed by the large chains (a trend I’m seeing in other sectors as well). I think we’ll find a balance again, but it will be a different equilibrium. We still need that third place, neither home nor work but common ground to re-establish community. 

In media res,

Kurt Cagle
Community Editor,
Data Science Central

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