From the Industrial Revolution to the development of co-working spaces, the way we work has changed and will continue to evolve over time.
From how we commute to the different ways that we communicate, our offices and work lives are constantly evolving and changing to keep up with the times.
Think about it, for our grandparents’ generation the idea of zoom calls and remote working would have seemed preposterous - today it’s become the norm.
Ahead of Science Week 2020, which runs from November 8-15, we decided to talk to Professor Noel O’Connor about the changes he predicts to see in the next 10 years.
Prof Noel currently lectures in the School of Electronic Engineering in Dublin City University and is the CEO of the Insight SFI Centre for Data Analytics. We caught up with him to find out how our workplaces are going to change in the next decade and if this change will ultimately benefit us all.
Remote working has become a bit of a buzzword due to Covid-19 but Prof Noel believes it is here to stay.
“I absolutely think it will change how our offices look in 10 years’ time,” he explains. “Remote working was forced upon us all whether we liked it or not thanks to Covid. It’s been a huge learning process for us all. When the vaccine arrives and the world goes back to normal, we won’t go back to the way we were. I don’t think we can just fall back into the same old patterns of behaviour.”
In the future, Prof Noel believes that we will combine remote working with being in the office.
“What we will probably end up with is a hybrid of both physical interaction and remote digital interaction,” he explains. “There are huge benefits to that in terms of people’s time, people’s availability and in terms of impact on the environment. We now know about the challenges that we will face in terms of the technology that we have to deliver to make things like remote working much more human-centric.”
To help us all to navigate this new working world, Prof Noel believes we need to embrace new technology.
“It’s very difficult to stay engaged and stay attentive when working remotely,” he states. “We’re all suffering from Zoom fatigue. We’re in an endless sequence of calls and that can be very challenging. We need technology that helps us.”
In the next 10 years, he believes there is going to be a huge demand for new technology.
“We have a great example of that called Help Me Watch, an ongoing research project in Insight at DCU. During a video call, whether that’s an hour-long lecture if you’re a student or three-hour meeting if you’re a businessman, it’s very easy to get distracted.
“What we can do is take video and audio feeds from your own camera and use that information to understand if you were present or not and using AI techniques identify whether you were engaged and even whether you found it interesting.
“That basically means that after the fact you can potentially go back into a recording and focus on the bits that you weren’t engaged with or where your attention wandered. We’re doing this all in a completely GDPR compliant kind of way. Your information doesn’t go anywhere, only you can see your information, for your benefit.”
This is just one example of how technology will help us all to navigate this new working world, another new addition to the workplace will be AI.
AI will help to streamline processes in the offices of the future.
“With the deluge of digital content, we need to be able to take these AI techniques that we’re working on and use them in a way to make content more accessible and understandable,” explains Prof Noel. “There’s a huge opportunity for AI and machine learning to help automate some of the tasks that humans spend a lot of time doing at the moment such as reviewing documents, sorting images or summarising video content. The advances in AI and machine learning mean that a lot of these tasks can be either completely automated or semi-automated.
When people hear the words automation or artificial intelligence, they often shudder at the fact that machines will be taking our jobs when in reality, they will merely be helping us to do them better.
“At the end of the day, AI should be empowering humans to make better decisions more efficiently,” he explains. “It’s not necessarily about replacing humans, it’s about giving them tools to make better decisions more effectively.”
A lot of Prof Noel’s work has been based on the concept of smart cities and he believes this will affect how our offices are run in 2030.
“Smart city is the concept where technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in society,” he explains. “Sensors for collecting information about every aspect of our communities are starting to appear in the physical world. That’s coupled with the telecoms infrastructure to collect data from them on an ongoing basis at scale and then we have the machine learning AI end of things to extract useful insights from that data.”
This mass data collection will inform how our offices function.
“We have at our fingertips the technologies to make our cities, our communities, our buildings and our offices much better places to work, rest or play because we know more about them from the data that is being collected and then we can use that data to make them better environments for humans to be in.
“That could be better decisions about saving light and heat based on better understanding occupancy in various different rooms around a campus or within a building. It could be monitoring the correct air quality which is particularly important in relation to Covid. If you have that information and those measurements then you can start to optimise how you manage those buildings with a view to obviously saving on the use of energy.”
So, it looks like the office of 2030 will be more streamlined, technology-driven and ultimately efficient. In the words of Prof Noel, “It’s about empowering humans not about replacing humans”.
Science Week 2020 will run from November 8-15 and this year marks its 25th anniversary. Want to share your views on how science can shape our future? Visit our interactive platform and join the conversation on the Science Week website to share your vision for the future this Science Week! #ScienceWeek