Future of work: unleashing the human potential
Twenty years ago, the first Swissnex office was founded in Cambridge, USA. Today, Swissnex has grown into a global network dedicated to unlocking the imagination needed to create a different world through the exchange of knowledge, ideas, and talent. The 20th anniversary campaign of Swissnex, named “nex20”, imagines the role of Switzerland on the global stage in 2040, through various activities in different formats across five themes: #ConnectingTomorrow, #WorkingTomorrow, #LivingTomorrow, #MeetingTomorrow and #LearningTomorrow. On December 9, Swissnex in China convened top representatives of the Swiss academic and business landscape, top level panelists from China, India, Singapore, South Africa, and Switzerland, as well as top entrepreneurs from Swiss Deeptech startups on a virtual event to discuss the future of work with a focus on human skills in a tech-empowered future.
Patrick Warnking, Country Director of Google Switzerland, set the tone for the event with a keynote speech on the topic “People First”. The first half of his speech was on the purpose, responsibility and culture of Google in which he showed us some concrete examples of Google’s initiatives to help people with technology. The second half of his speech was on growing and learning at Google with a focus on its company culture of personal development. He concluded his speech by emphasizing that in an age of technology and innovation, people first is still the most relevant topic for the success of a company. Patrick’s speech indeed highlights the importance of people in the future of work and the importance of technology to elevate people and bring out the very human abilities.
Following Patrick’s speech was the first round of startup pitching moderated by Lijun Zhang, Head of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Swissnex in China. Four Swiss startups in the area of automation, namely ecoRobotix, ROVENSO, Voliro, and Wingtra, each gave a two-minute pitch on their core technology. From autonomous weeding machines, to agile robots for security and safety monitoring, to flying robots that can fly, see, and touch, and to vertical take-off and landing mapping drones, these four startups presented their innovative solutions to enable the future of work to our audience.
Likewise, the second round of startup pitching demonstrated what work would be like in the near future with the help of artificial intelligence and virtual reality. It was moderated by Dominique Gruhl-Bégin, Head of Startups and Next Generation Innovators at Innosuisse. The four startups, including holo|one with its standardized augmented reality platform, Neural Concept which creates deep learning algorithms for enhanced engineering, Seervision that develops video analysis algorithms for object recognition and scene segmentation, and Vima whose behavioral intelligence tools can understand human behavior in different contexts, again showed how Swiss innovation may bring a difference to our professional world.
While technologies hold great promise and are expected to afford considerable benefits to humanity, their far-reaching impact have also seen the emergence of challenges. A significant portion of the event was dedicated towards two panel discussions in which the panelists re-examined new paradigms for work in order to envision a better world for all of us.
The first panel focused on the future of human-machine collaboration to elevate – and not replace – human work. In this panel we gained insights from Professor Vanessa Wood, Incoming Vice President at ETH Zurich, Professor Nadia Thalmann, Director of MIRALab at University of Geneva and Director of the Institute for Media Innovation at Nanyang Technological University, and Winnie Qiu, Founder and CEO of Haalthy. Led by Sirpa Tsimal, Director of Investment Promotion at Switzerland Global Enterprise, the three panelists shared how their institutes or projects strive to unleash human potential through better collaboration with machines. Specifically, Professor Wood talked about the ETH AI Center, which has a faculty coming from a diverse range of departments; Professor Thalmann described the social robot Nadine which she and her team was working on; Winnie gave an overview of how Haalthy, the largest lung cancer patient’s reported data platform, is making an impact. At the end of the panel, Professor Thalmann pointed out that although robots can work as actors, they can never replace us as people. Indeed, if there is something that is left for us, it is who we are as people, what boils down to emotional touch, and the connections we can forge. These make us special and they will never be replaced by robots.
In the subsequent panel discussion, the panelists dug further into how we can unleash these “most human of human skills” in the future of work that distinguish us from robots. Professor Gisou van der Goot, Incoming Vice President at EPFL, Dr. Samia Chasi, Strategic Advisor at International Education Association of South Africa, and Sairee Chahal, Founder & CEO of SHEROES together engaged in a dynamic discussion led by Dr. Inez von Weitershausen, Head of Learning and Outreach of Center for Leadership in the Future of Work at University of Zurich. Indeed, while we need to invest on the skill side with respect to technology and invest in the STEM field, we also need to invest in soft skills that actually do not expire. For Sairee, some of these core skills include what she called “entrepreneur skills” like adaptability and leadership. Professor van der Goot believes risk-taking, creativity and the ability to be yourself and care about people are especially crucial to people in the academic field. Coming from a culturally and racially diverse background herself, Dr. Chasi talked about diversity literacy, which would allow one to think critically about complex social issues such as identity, power and difference. These skills would be with us for a lifetime, and the more opportunities we have to practice those and to apply those, the better they are.
The event was concluded by Prof. Dr. Jochen Menges, Chair of Human Resource Management and Leadership at the Department of Business Administration of the University of Zurich. He brought up two points when summarizing this event. One is the combination of technical skills and people skills, which he referred to as “STEMpathy”. He believes this combination is what distinguishes successful startups, what distinguishes Google, and what needs to distinguish the next generation of the workforce. Another is the collaboration among people to co-create solutions for the future. He stated that this event was evidence that it was not just one brain that changed the world, but many brains. It is these many brains that make us as humans, as humanity, amazing.
This event organized as part of the nex20 anniversary campaign by Swissnex would not have been successful without the support of our partners. We would like to sincerely thank the Embassy of Switzerland in India, Singapore and South Africa, swisstech campaign powered by Presence Switzerland, Switzerland Global Enterprise, Innosuisse, digitalswitzerland and Swissnex for their great help on this event. We also want to express our appreciation for all the speakers, panelists, and startup representatives for their informative contribution. We hope this Working Tomorrow event has provided our audience with interesting perspectives on the future of work, especially about our roles as humans.
At last, we want to invite you to follow the 46th WorldSkills Competition, which will take place in Shanghai for the first time in 2022. You may be able to gain some valuable insights, which aims to exemplify the gold standard of skills excellence and improve our future with the power of human skills. Both Switzerland and China have been active members in this global competition and we look forward to their performance in Shanghai soon!
Please view and download the webinar recording here.
Mar 23, 2021 by Yaël Kaiser