Robots, collaboration, wearables and the cloud: What is the future of work?

There can be no doubt that technology has evolved dramatically over the last decade; as the digital age has boomed, so has our reliance on the technology which has emerged from it. It's hard to image that just 10 years ago we didn't have Facebook, there was no Google Maps, no Dropbox, no YouTube, and no Twitter. The services that we have come to rely on in our everyday lives just didn't exist back then.

There's no doubt that everyone wants to know what will be possible for mankind in the future, so every five years or so I try and figure out what life, or at least what life in the workplace, is going to be like in a decade's time. However, as technology shifts and changes so quickly, it's impossible to know for certain what things will be like in 2024.

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When you ask people about the future, robotics is one of the most common discussion points. I don't believe that robotics in the workplace will result in physical droids moving around the office space performing tasks. Instead, I think our robo-assistants will be behind the scenes and, much like IBM's Watson, will have artificial intelligence weaved into the very fibre of the technology we use.

This, combined with advances in anticipatory computing, will bring forth software developed and informed by a greater understanding of our psychology, which will become so intelligent that it will take into account moods and emotions. It will learn and adapt to how we work, it will understand that, if we are creative, we work one way but if we're more logical, we work in another way. The technology will understand how best to adapt if we are introverted, extroverted and how we want to connect and work with colleagues.

Most importantly, this advanced software will help us focus. Over the last 10 years we've lost our ability to concentrate at work, as things pop up on our screens throughout the day we never actually get anything done; this will all change as systems adapt and allow us to concentrate on individual tasks. The software we use will be so sophisticated that the tasks we struggle with will become easy to manage (and potentially even enjoyable).

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In 2024, there won't necessarily be a physical workplace that you need to go to. Companies of all sizes are already adopting some sort of cloud policy and in the future, cloud will form the basis of collaboration tools. Paired with other features, such as virtual reality and anticipatory computing, the cloud will become much more resilient and predictive. The workforce will not only be able to operate remotely, but will be able to transpose itself into the workplace, physically attending meetings through virtual means in a three dimensional capacity, and able to interact with the people, surfaces and content around them.

It's not just going to be the software we use that changes in the workplace of the future. If you walked into an office today, chances are you'll see the traditional computer setup, however in the office of 2024, the computers we rely on today will look significantly different. They will no longer consist of a bulky box made up of wires and disks. Instead, you'll have a curved, all LED screen, which you can roll up like a sheet of paper and put in your pocket to take with you wherever you go. Your compute power will not just be limited to this screen though. Thanks to virtual reality, you'll be able to interact and develop content seemingly in mid-air, reaching into the information you're working with and physically manipulating it.

Along with this new computer, you'll also have an array of highly advanced wearable devices. We've already seen people clamouring to get hold of Google Glasses and smartwatches. In the future, we'll see this go a step further with things like smart contact lenses and telephonic fashion accessories such as earrings, all of which will be the norm rather than a novelty, replacing the smartphones we have come to rely on so heavily.

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We can already see hints of what the future will be like in the ways we work today, but there's so much more still to come. Work shouldn't be boring; it should be stimulating, and the technology we use should help us engage with the content we are developing, consuming and collaborating with. More than anything, in the workplace of the future it's going to be about empowering us to simply get things done, allowing human capacity to innovate beyond what is possible today.

John Newton is the chairman and CTO of Alfresco

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