This year’s DISRUPT.SYDNEY includes the Australian launch of Digital Mike – a real-time rendered photo-realistic avatar. Given my interest in the intersection between talent management and technology, I’m both excited and apprehensive about the role of avatars in the future of work. All of the talk about avatars and the implications of technological innovations for talent management, and more specifically, the skills and capabilities valued in the talent of the future, prompt me to critical reflection and a whole bundle of questions, queries, concerns and comments.
Talent management, from a foundational perspective, is a judgement-orientated activity where humans make judgments about other humans. But while personal views of “talent” influence strategies, policies and processes, so to do technological innovations.
The influence of technological advances on our understanding of the skills and capabilities deemed valuable within operational and strategic contexts is not a new phenomenon. The transition away from proprietary systems to human resource and talent management modules of larger vendor designed enterprise systems led to the reshaping of organisation’s understanding of talent skills whereby technical, rather than contextual, knowledge increased in value.
We have witnessed significant changes in how organisations attract talent since the advent of LinkedIn and are now appreciating the importance of digital footprints and online reputations. Consequently, there is greater value attributed to skills associated with marketing and personal branding. Transitions to digital workplaces enhance the imperative need for talent with requisite digital and social skills because digital disruption not only influences where and when we work but also the skills required.
Westworld, the TV series, incited personal and professional reflection about “who” and “what” is talent within the show’s context. Which skill set is more valuable and therefore imperative for talent? Is it the individual’s that “turn on” and/or “fix” the android hosts or those individual’s that possess the skills to shut down and “turn off” the hosts when they go rogue?
While the embodied cognitive agents shown in Westworld are pre-programmed, and “guests” are (largely) aware of their technical status, what if avatars advance to where we are unable to tell the difference between what is real and what is fake?
Digital Mike affords a glimpse into the future, where such judgments about reality may blur. While I am amazed and impressed by the avatar demonstrated in Digital Mike’s invitation to DISRUPT.SYDNEY, I also start to ponder the extent to which society can accurately distinguish, in real-time, whether the face they see is real or an individual’s avatar.
And this invokes numerous (exciting, but daunting) questions about the intersection between this technological innovation and talent management: Will organisations value individuals who create real-time, life-like, computer generated avatars? Will organisations of the future be searching for talent that are to recognise what’s real and what’s fake? Will the ability to decipher deception, such as the use of undeclared real-time and life-like avatars, be a key talent of the future?
Lastly, can we imagine a future where we pronounce that “It’s not what you know – but whether you know that who you know is fake or real?”