As Seen On TV – Digital Transformation

The entertainment industry has been one of the main beneficiaries of digital transformation, and not just from new automation technologies they get to leverage on productions, but more importantly, on the actual storylines that they share on TV shows and films throughout the years. From the more sci-fi oriented movies to serious documentary-style features, there has been a recent uptick in storytelling that showcases digital transformation and automation by name, and we couldn’t be more excited about the popularization of this topic; as more and more people are familiarized with the subject, it fosters better discussions and faster innovation.

With every great thing though, come the not-so-great side effects. Many movies and shows have gone to extremes in showcasing automation through a futuristic lens, to the point where it seems like every current job has been replaced by machines, and not only that, but the robots end up taking over and turning against humans… This glamorized approach has become the main fear many people face when digital transformation knocks on their door: “the robot takeover has begun!”

But, not so fast.

Before we get ahead of ourselves with robots having enough artificial intelligence to plot a hostile takeover, let’s look at the more likely and beneficial outcomes that some television shows and films are conveying so well:

  1. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – Automation: in this episode of his weekly HBO show, John Oliver does a deep dive into the fear many people face today about more and more tasks being automated, and them losing their jobs. All politics aside, the key message in this episode is: yes, many of the jobs that exist today will be phased out sooner or later, but there is no reason to fear this phase out because the truth is, we cannot predict which new jobs will be born out of the new automation age. If we think about it, the jobs that exist today were nowhere near our scope of imagination 100 years ago. Industrialization, digitization, and automation have all revolutionized life as we know it, but just as today we can’t possibly imagine what the new jobs will be, the 1935 workforce would’ve been extremely confused if you told them there were possibilities to work from home as a social media manager in 2020.
  2. Hidden Figures: this movie (based on real life events in the 1960s) explores the role of humans had as “computers” when they worked for NASA at the time of the space race. Back then, the brightest minds worked day and night making flight trajectory calculations to try to defy the laws of physics to launch men into space, and safely bring them back to earth. The moment in this movie that we’d like to focus on though, is around Dorothy Vaughan, who was an unofficial supervisor of the black women “computers.” When Dorothy realizes that NASA is installing the IBM 7090 data processing system, she takes it upon herself to learn about programming, because she knows that once the computer works, the human computers would no longer be needed – but programmers would. She teaches her whole department how to program, and effectively gets them all automatically promoted to programmers once the IBM is set up.  
  3. The Imitation Game: another movie that is based on real life events, The Imitation Game follows the nerve-wracking trajectory of Alan Turing and his brilliant team, recruited to try to hack the code Nazi Germany was using to communicate across countries through their Enigma machine. At the time, cryptographers would work around the clock to try to decode the messages, and much of the work would go to waste every time a new code was sent. Alan Turing, considered by many as one of the father of modern computer and grandfather of artificial intelligence, designed a machine that could be programmed with existing code knowledge to figure out the incoming messages – this is the basis for machine learning. The movie also covers many complicated and ethical issues that were dealt with at the time, but in the end, we can all thank Turing for his tireless work to crack the codes, which was made possible with technology.

The universal message that resonates across the board in these movies and shows is: technological advances do not equate to absence of jobs, but rather, the birth of new lines of work we simply can’t foresee until the innovation becomes real. Automation and digital transformation should not bring about fear. Instead, we should all focus on training and educating younger workers to expect new technologies with excitement for the possibilities they create, and remember that the bottom line is that technology is here to make our lives (and work) better, so we can keep rising in quality of life.