Our recent Food For Thought lunches held on the South Coast debated the future role of technology in business and the implications for society.
The threat to jobs
As with the first industrial revolution and the inception of production line manufacturing there are likely to be jobs lost to technology and this was considered not to be anything new in itself.
Delegates gave mixed views about the future impact of machines that could undertake the cognitive aspects of tasks rather than purely mechanical elements and the potential threat of advanced machine learning to professional services.
By contrast, there are examples where the removal of lower to middle skilled jobs will be part of a number of business models as technologies such as driverless cars evolve to be an everyday reality. The better businesses will be those that do not lose that workforce but rather upskill them to support these emerging technologies.
The human impact of technology
With questions remaining about how the employment market may look as AI and automation takes a greater hold across business and healthcare we looked to the impact on individuals, their families and society of what technology can bring.
Our own experience as a firm tells us that the flexibility to work seamlessly from multiple locations is a massive benefit for our staff, helping balance work and home without any effect on the service to our clients.
Those same technologies can benefit our clients bringing improved interactions without additional cost. Flexible working allows a business to save money on office space while simultaneously attracting workers who are looking for an adaptable professional experience.
Businesses, consumers and most governments are seeking technologies capable of addressing concerns about scarce resources, climate change, pollution and energy security, driving growth in the sustainable technology sector.
Emerging technologies (like new battery types, sustainable energy and energy efficient equipment) have the power to contribute to a more sustainable approach to running businesses as well as providing opportunities for developers and early adopters to lead the market.
The demand for computing power is increasing as society becomes increasingly reliant on digital services and with that comes demand for power consumption acting against some of the more positive influences.
Security: the best lines of defence
According to the Cisco 2017 Annual Cybersecurity Report, ransomware and cyber-attacks are growing at a yearly rate of 350%. In the UK alone, cyber-attacks such as Wannacry and NotPetya cost businesses £29.1bn in 2016.
Given the economic impact and potential consequences of cyber-attacks, the lack of focus on and investment in cybersecurity deserves considerable attention.
The arrival of block-chain technology and with it crypto-currencies has brought with it new and incredibly secure ways of transferring assets and value without using the existing banking infrastructure.
The market is still young but in the medium term those very features also present opportunities for criminal and terrorist activity to be concealed and without the physical presence of a bank or regulated person controlling the funds at key stages and keeping records, there were some concerns about tracing activity after the event.
There were also questions about the availability and control of the scarce crypto-assets that are being “mined”.
What does the future hold?
Our conclusions were of cautious optimism, provided that better or more control of crypto-currencies is introduced. A business that develops an adaptable strategy and plan will be able to survive any hurdle placed in front of it.
By necessity, this briefing can only provide a short overview and it is essential to seek professional advice before applying the contents of this article. This briefing does not constitute advice nor a recommendation relating to the acquisition or disposal of investments. No responsibility can be taken for any loss arising from action taken or refrained from on the basis of this publication. Details correct at time of writing.
This article was previously published on Smith & Williamson prior to the launch of Evelyn Partners.