Opinion - CNBC Work

CNBC launches @Work, a conference series focusing on the future of work

Key Points

Artificial intelligence. Machine learning. The gig economy. Robotics.

How we work, where we work — the very definition of work itself — are undergoing radical transformation.

To help make sense of this new world, CNBC is proud to announce the launch of a new editorial franchise and event series called @Work: Tech, Transformation and the Future of Jobs. In addition to a digital special report on CNBC.com and segments on TV, we will be conducting three conferences this year, each with its own focus, with the unifying theme of how the world of work is changing in fundamental ways.

The three conferences will be:

  • Talent@Work: Anticipating the Workforce of Tomorrow, geared toward human resources officers.
  • Productivity@Work: Balancing people and machines, geared toward chief information officers and chief technology officers.
  • Capital@Work: Investing in the Future Workforce, geared toward CFOs and senior financial managers.

The transformation of work will have far-reaching consequences for employers and employees and, indeed, society as a whole. The promise of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution is greater productivity, better products and rapid innovation. The flip side is, of course, a fear that machines will replace, well, all of us.

Increasingly, tasks normally handled by white-collar workers like lawyers are being handled far more efficiently and effectively by A.I. — according to AI News, a recent study showed A.I. trouncing experienced lawyers in reviewing contracts — the A.I. program took an average of 26 seconds to complete a task that it took lawyers an average of 92 minutes to do; A.I. was accurate 94 percent of the time, while the lawyers were accurate only 85 percent of the time. We in TV are not immune. IBM's Watson has been taught to assemble video highlight reels from sporting events and analyze fashion trends from the red carpet of awards shows autonomously. Yeesh.

Rapid technological advances have widened the skills gap, as evidenced by our recent story about AT&T retraining fully half of its workforce. Many companies just don't have, and can't find, the talent they need in a software- and mobile-centric environment. It also underscores the fact that the federal government's efforts at retraining have been woefully inadequate and our colleges and universities aren't turning out enough of the "right" kind of graduates to meet demand.

As engineers and programmers have become more vital, so too is the need to integrate them into the broader culture of a company. Recently I had a conversation with a CTO who hired engineers specifically based on their soft skills; his perspective was that hard skills can be taught (within reason), but soft skills not so much. Creating a culture of trust and creative collaboration between product managers, sales teams, the C-suite and engineers is key to a successful enterprise.

All of this technological transformation is taking place at a time of demographic and cultural change. Younger workers have different job expectations than their parents and grandparents did, and the employer-employee contract has changed. There is also, of course, the ongoing (and long overdue) reckoning of the #MeToo and Time's Up movements. Creating a more level playing field and a more open environment for people to express their true selves isn't just about fairness — it's about the bottom line. Research has shown that the most diverse companies also perform the best financially.

On TV, digital and at live events, @Work will explore the most innovative ideas on how to best leverage the opportunities and challenges presented by economic and societal shifts, along with the rapid advances taking place in machine learning, A.I. and automation. We initially will be launching three events, programmed toward chief human resources officers, chief technology officers and chief financial officers, respectively.

We hope you enjoy our @Work stories on TV and digital and that you will join us at one of our events.

For more information, go to cnbc.com/productivityatwork.

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