As the digital revolution kills jobs, social unrest will rise

Gartner offers up 10 strategic predictions for the next 10 years

By , Computerworld |  IT Management, Gartner

Gartner is forecasting some major changes in technology, especially in areas like 3D printing, machine learning and voice recognition. They are all powerful trends that will reduce the need for workers, and, as a consequence, bring social unrest, the analyst firm said.

In the industrial revolution -- and revolutions since -- there was an invigoration of jobs. For instance, assembly lines for cars led to a vast infrastructure that could support mass production giving rise to everything from car dealers to road building and utility expansion into new suburban areas.

But the digital revolution is not following the same path, said Daryl Plummer, a Gartner analyst at the research firm's Symposium ITxpo here. "What we're seeing is a decline in the overall number of people required to do a job," he said.

Plummer points to a company like Kodak, which once employed 130,000, versus Instagram's 13. Gartner sees social unrest movements, similar to Occupy Wall Street, emerging again by 2014. That's prediction No. 1.

"Occupy-type Wall Street movements are going to grow," he said during his presentation of the "Top 10 Strategic Predictions." Plummer looked at trends in time frames over the next 10 years.

One attendee who agreed with the prediction that digitization and automation will cost jobs was Tom Seitzberg, director of international IT operations for Genomic Health in San Francisco.

"Ultimately, every society lives from the backbone from a strong middle class," said Seitzberg. "If you get just a top level, a small amount of very rich people and a very large piece of very poor people, it leads to social unrest."

Seitzberg said it's important to see "how you can also make sure that the people are actually benefiting from it."

Here are the remaining nine predictions from Gartner:

1. By 2016, the 3D printing of tissues and organs, called bioprinting, will cause a global debate about regulating the technology or banning it. Bioprinting is just one aspect of 3-D, but it illustrates, dramatically, the potential of this technology. "If you are an enterprise, you have got to start preparing your people for the notion that 3-D printing can go a long way," said Plummer. "If you start printing products, distribution systems change; the software for them changes, where the work is done changes."

2. By 2018, 3D printing will result in the loss of at least $100 billion a year in intellectual property globally. This could be particularly hard on a small business. "It's now easy to steal an entire business," said Plummer.

3. By 2017, more than half of consumer goods manufacturers will get 75% of their consumer innovation and R&D capabilities from crowd-sourcing. Companies are already soliciting customer feedback in product design and direction.

4. By 2017, 80% of consumers will give up private information in exchange for some type of benefit. "People are getting more used to the idea," said Plummer.

5. By 2020, enterprises and government will fail to protect 75% of sensitive data. "The reality is you don't protect it today," said Plummer, of the data. The alternative is to give up access to data that really isn't sensitive, and not try to protect all data access the board. "We should be focusing on the data that really needs to be protected," he said.

6. By 2024, machines will play a bigger role in protecting humans with "non-overridable 'smart systems,'" says Gartner. Cars are already getting this technology, such as a braking system that can respond faster than a human.

7. By 2020, smart machines will disrupt knowledge workers in both positive and negative ways. Imagine training your replacement, a machine, to take over your job. The thing to watch, says Gartner, are revenues earned by IBM from Watson, the Jeopardy-playing supercomputer. Gartner expects Watson to account for 1.5% of IBM revenues by the end of 2015, and 10% by 2018.

8. By 2017, 10% of computers will be learning. Expect more use of speech recognition.

9. By 2020, consumer data collected from wearable devices will drive 5% of sales from the global 1000 firms.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

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