On the surface, it may be difficult to understand why a company that focuses on meetings solutions would be interested in having a quantum physicist lead its roadshow. What do video conferencing and quantum mechanics have in common? How do you tie quantum theory and meetings platforms together? For us, it’s all about how technology is driving a different approach to how we live and work.
As we look forward into the world of work and how it will change in coming years, we are intrigued by what might be fueling these waves of technology change. That is why we brought Dr. Brian Greene to our Think Forward City Tour, and why we recently sat down with him to talk about how his work on the quantum domain relates to digital transformation. Take a look at our discussion to see how Dr. Greene’s research ties to the work of the future, and what you can do now to be prepared for the next decade of change.
Q: Can you explain your work and research and why it’s important to business leaders?
BG: My work seeks to understand the workings of nature, from the realm of particles in the quantum domain to the behavior of space and time in the arena of cosmology. While these topics may seem far from the concerns of business, the pattern of understanding nature to then controlling nature is deeply familiar. Indeed, the entire electronics industry relies heavily on advances from quantum physics.
Q: How is the next revolution in how we work being driven by quantum mechanics?
BG: To date, the information and digital industries have not leveraged the full power of quantum mechanics. We’ve made circuits and devices ever-smaller and ever-faster, which has resulted in vital advances. But quantum “superposition”—the ability of particles, in a sense, to be simultaneously located at two different positions—and quantum “entanglement”—the ability of widely separated particles to act as though they are one—are only now being incorporated into forefront technologies such as quantum computers. Many anticipate that these advances are the beginnings of an entirely new revolution in how we live and work.
Q: At the Think Forward Atlanta event you said, “There is an opportunity to change the depth of engagement with everything around us.” Can you explain what you mean and give an example of how it will impact the workplace?
BG: I was referring to the power of virtual reality. Delivery of content on flat screens can be powerful. Video conferencing, for example, has already transformed how we meet and work. But content delivered through full three-dimensional immersion is radically different. When you can enter the quantum realm, when you can hover near the edge of a black hole, when you can explore hyperspace by entering a carefully constructed virtual realm, your engagement is taken to a new level.
Q: When you think of the “future of work,” what are some trends you expect to see in the next five years? How can leaders be prepared for them?
BG: There are no surprises here. In the next five years, two dominant trends will involve a rapid increase in the automation of tasks now in the domain of humans, and a decreased emphasis on the physical location where various tasks are carried out. I’ve taught live lectures on string theory which have been attended real-time by scores of students in dozens of countries. By virtue of leveraging digital opportunities—interactive (students built and manipulated higher dimensional shapes inaccessible in the real 3D work) and live (students entered realms of curved spacetime unavailable in the ordinary environment)—the experience was more immersive (not less) than would have been the case if we were all in the same lecture theatre. Leaders need to redesign workflows and creative strategies to maximize the enormous opportunities of digital immersion.
Q: Are there places where you feel that leaders are NOT seeing the future, or ideas that are not gaining the traction you would expect?
BG: It’s hard to generalize. The wonderful work being done in quantum computing is looking to the future in a potent way. The innovate research in machine learning is doing so as well. One hurdle is the knee-jerk reaction of the corporate world to reap the profits of increased automation without the foresight of reinvesting in the retraining of the workforce. Human capital is a precious resource that is not being given its full due.
Q: What do you anticipate will be the defining factor fueling the next wave of the intelligent workplace?
BG: The defining factor will be collaboration with non-biological intelligence. We will need to work shoulder-to-shoulder (if that continues to be a relevant metaphor) with beings—a description I anticipate continuing to be accurate—that will be better than us at a wide variety of tasks, allowing a new type of human creativity to flourish.
Q: Which types of job roles do you think are most susceptible to being disrupted over the next three years and why?
BG: Through machine learning, the gathering of data, the processing of data, and the finding of patterns within data will continually shift away from being tasked to humans. Evolution has shaped our capacities to find particular kinds of patterns—those that were most useful to our ancestors struggling to survive in a harsh paleolithic environment. In the modern world, the conditions are different, the patterns we need to find are different, and the stakes are different. Machines, properly constructed and trained, can perform such tasks more reliably and more quickly than naturally-evolved humans.
Q: As business leaders look to future-proof their organizations, what must they do to ensure that their companies (and their products) remain relevant for years to come?
BG: I wish I knew. As does everyone else. The best we can say now is to value nimbleness. The challenge with that, of course, is that workplace efficiency has long relied on consistency—but consistency can easily result in stagnation. So leaders need to allow for periods of inefficiency that are necessary for periods of innovation.
Q: At the Think Forward Atlanta event you said, “The kind of business challenge you’re willing to confront depends on the weaponry [computational tools] you have in your pocket.” What did you mean by this?
BG: Innovation does not only allow us to tackle old challenges more quickly and more fully. It also allows us to tackle challenges we would have never even considered previously. In my own work, for example, the innovation of digital tools for mathematical manipulation (e.g. Mathematica) opened the mind of physicists to classes of problems that in the past would have been completely out of bounds due to their extraordinary level of complexity. With the new tools at our disposal, the battle lines have been redrawn. It’s a general lesson: innovation not only provides new answers—it also opens up a whole new class of questions.
There is no denying that Dr. Greene is a leader in quantum physics. In addition to his work in the space, he is the director of Columbia Univerisity’s Center for Theoretical Physics, as well as the author of multiple best selling books and an amazing keynote speaker. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at our first Think Forward event in Atlanta, where the audience was blown away by his thoughts on how quantum mechanics impacts the future of work.
And there is still time to hear him speak! Join the BlueJeans Think Forward tour in Dallas on October 25th or in San Francisco on November 7th to hear Dr. Brian Greene, along with digital transformation experts Greg Verdino and Tamara McCleary. They will also be joined by Ursula Llabres and Anand Dass from Workplace by Facebook, as well as cloud technology expert John Knightly from BlueJeans. We can’t wait to see you there.