well lit hallway
The intelligent workplace isn’t just a vision of the future, it’s here PHOTO: d26b73

Sitting down to write this article the day after re-watching "The Matrix" was perhaps not the best idea. 

Did I really want to discuss the rise of the intelligent workplace while visions of humans as living energy cells providing power to the machines that had enslaved us were still fresh in mind? We had put the movie on after our youngest daughter, now in her mid-20s, casually mentioned over dinner she had never seen it.

Personally I prefer the vision of automation, artificial intelligence and the future shown in the world of George Jetson than that of Neo and Morpheus. One company recently reimagined the opening title sequence of "The Jetsons" cartoon with ideas that seem to be not too far away: autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, holographic video conferencing, multi-national locations, robotics and more.

What Once Was Science Fiction Is Now Reality

In his TED Talk on jobs of the future, MIT scientist Andrew McAfee noted we are in fact starting to see things in the workplace that seem more like science fiction and less like jobs. He pointed out that in the last few years, our machines have started demonstrating skills they have never had before — understanding, speaking, hearing, seeing, answering, writing — and they are still acquiring new skills.

Think of the potential of what will happen when we hook up a personal automated assistant like Siri to a next generation cognitive computing platform.

The Intelligent Workplace isn’t just a vision of the future, it’s here. 

From Assigned Desks to Intelligent Systems

It wasn’t too long ago that a company’s idea of the workplace was a dedicated office building, where employees were assigned a fixed desktop location, on which rested a company-designated device, which contained a set suite of applications uploaded by the company based on what it felt the employees needed to perform their role.

But the world has changed with the rise of a mobile virtual workforce working flexible hours. Employees are on the move, a large proportion of them are using their own devices (laptops, phones, tablets) to perform critical business operations, and producing a rapid growth in data.

Today organizations needs to present the right data and systems to employees when and where they need them, in a predictable, reliable and secure manner.

The continuing development of automated systems layered with basic artificial intelligence is helping to deliver that need through techniques such as machine learning, pattern processing and natural language recognition. These allow intelligent systems to react to the complexities of the evolving multi-user, multi-device, multi-platform, multi-location, always-on dynamic workforce.

The current state of artificial intelligence is helping build bridges between people and the systems they use, making access to data more intuitive.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Is the next step the development of a true internet of things, where the human sits at the interaction point between the digital and physical worlds? 

As the infrastructure we build and operate in has more sensors and transmitters embedded in it, as the world becomes more wired and wireless, the intelligent workplace will truly become a work wherever you are paradigm. 

Ultimately we will take it for granted that our personal devices, phones, smart watches, augmented reality enabled glasses etc., will automatically connect with sensor equipped physical structures.

But what sort of activities will be doing in these connected intelligent workspaces? 

As machine learning and artificial intelligence takes over repetitive tasks and remove drudgery from the workplace, will it free up people to have more time to promote creativity and further innovation? Early indications are that it might be doing just that with the explosive numbers of start-up companies, as well as new artistic endeavors.

To paraphrase Andrew McAfee, will this be the age of machine that enables creators, discoverers, performers and innovators, to address issues, entertain, enlighten and provoke thought and discussion?