Lately, I have been enjoying the celebrity geek-off between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, who have very different opinions about whether AI will be an unequivocally good thing for human society. I guess I was as scared as the next guy the first time I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger's original Terminator. But I'm not ready to leave Manhattan and dig an underground bunker to write my column in.

Of course, while I remain more interested in watching for opportunities than threats to my personal success, it is still a good idea to keep an eye on emerging technologies for the work place. And, believe me, lately there are some weird ones.

Many gadgets and applications wind up being just fads, and don't last long enough to have a long term impact on most careers or the way you and I work. But five of the recent items that have made news are worth watching, because they have notable potential to make life either significantly better or worse for many people. Can you see your office becoming a host to any of these changes?

1. Chipping isn't just for pets, but employees, too.

Wisconsin-based 32M definitely claimed its fifteen minutes of fame by announcing that it would offer RFID implants to its employees. Their intention was to make it easier for staff to use building amenities from vending machines to computers. Perhaps the most amazing part of the story is how excited many workers were about it. While some continue to worry about the implications for personal freedom and privacy, these folks just want more convenience in their day. Which do you think would win out for you? Would you rather protect your privacy, or ditch that itchy lanyard and badge?

2. The next cubical may hold a robot co-worker.

The manufacturing sector watched robots change its workforce decades ago. For a long time, white collar workers thought that they would be safe from the threat machine labor poses to low skill and manual labor, and it is true that these workers are still the most vulnerable. But AI, apps, and increasingly sophisticated automata are encroaching on their jobs, too. Programs like Grammarly are making proofreader/copyeditors nervous. Many companies have outsourced their bookkeeping to apps or distributed labor. And you can even consult a robot lawyer for basic legal problems. Right now, the only thing robots aren't predicted to replace are those jobs that require compassion and direct care. Have you found a way to make your job about the kind of human connection that will make you indispensible?

3. With an actual body camera, you may police yourself.

Some used to think that nanny systems monitoring keystrokes and Internet use were invasive. Now, cops are at the vanguard of workplace surveillance with wearable cameras. Those, however, may just be a quick stopover on the way to the real destination: implants. Multiple companies have applied for patents on cameras that fit over the eye like a contact, attach permanently to the ocular orb, or replace it. This could be a convenience (everything you see, your client sees), or a burden (everything you see, your boss sees). Would your efficiency be enhanced or your liability decreased if you had a video record of everything you encountered?

4. Brain-fi could replace your smartphone and laptop.

You can thank Elon Musk for this one, too. He has started yet another new company, Neuralink, to work on a device that can link the human brain to computer networks. You would no longer need a phone or laptop; your own head would become the portal to access data and programs. Ultimately, he hopes the implant will speed human-to-human communication, too. Haven't you ever wondered what your office mate is thinking? Maybe someday you will.

5. A digital gag may finally silence your teammates' trash talk.

Ok, this one is really meant to provide privacy when using a cell phone in a public place. The headset, made by a company called HushMe, looks a bit like something a hi tech Hannibal Lecter would wear, but is intended to act like a cone of silence and protect the user from being overheard. Who should be the first person in your office to get one--you or the guy in the next cubicle?

Published on: Aug 3, 2017
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