Exo-Digitally Enhanced Humans – Part 1

The Future

The Future

One striking aspect of this presidential campaign season is the lack of vision for, or even mention of, the future. Neither campaign is talking much about how it sees the future unfolding. We’re hearing differing views about how 20th Century jobs can be created. Some candidates (not specifically presidential candidates) are speaking of creating high-paying, hi-tech jobs in New York, my home state.

Here’s the problem: We are never going to need vast numbers of unskilled laborers again. In fact, we don’t need them now. People who translate the value of their muscles to wealth by repeating minimally complicated algorithmic tasks are being replaced by computer-controlled machines at an alarming rate. This trend will never reverse; these jobs can never be recreated.

To make matters worse, the speed and capacity of computing power is increasing at an exponential rate, which means that in a very few years, people who translate the value of their brain’s computational power into wealth by repeating minimally complicated algorithmic tasks will be replaced by computers.

Do not confuse the idea of your brain’s computational power with the power of reason, the ability to think strategically or even just the ability to think. Consider the act of adding a column of numbers – it is not a skill that you need a human to do, and it never will be again. There is no philosophical or existential or theoretical or metaphysical angle to the previous statement. You don’t need a human being’s brain to add a column of numbers.

There are thousands of jobs that humans do now, that computers can and will do better and more cost-effectively. Computer-controlled machines can and will replace people doing what most perceive to be jobs that only people can do. It is an immutable fact of connected life in the 21st century.

According to Intel, IBM, Cisco and about a zillion pundits and computer geeks, by 2020 we should expect computers to have the computational capability of a human brain. Not the soul of a person, not the personality of a human, not intelligence, not consciousness, not human qualities – just the computational power.

Now, please use your very human, very powerful brain to think about all of the jobs in the world that people currently do that require computation based upon algorithms, but very little or no thought.

Go to alexa.com and type in the name of your favorite website. There is a bunch of prose on the page — it was not written by a human, it was written by an algorithm.

In a couple of minutes, you will think of hundreds of examples of jobs that are so structured that, in many cases, they would be better accomplished by a computer than by a human. From customer service, to fraud and crime prevention, to monitoring the security of your premises, computers with highly sensitive sensors and good data-to-prose software will almost always do a better job than an organic life form. Plus computers don’t sleep, take breaks, daydream or have mood swings.

If I were you, I’d be thinking that this is all science fiction and that machines and computers are not going to replace humans anytime soon. You may be right. But I have news for you: exo-digitally enhanced humans are better than regular humans, and this is the first step.

What is an exo-digitally enhanced human? It is a person with a network-connected smartphone, tablet or other digital tool who knows how to use it. The best users have already outsourced their factoid and informational memory to Google, Wikipedia, IMDB, PubMed and other specialized databases. Short number memory is outsourced to the favorites section of your smart phone software. Way-finding cells in your hippocampus are atrophying because you have outsourced your way-finding to GPS systems and mapping software. I could go on and on, and so could you.

If you’re honest about how we live and work in a connected world, it doesn’t take long to see what a huge advantage exo-digitally enhanced human workers have over organic, natural human workers. (Notice I said “workers.” Organic people are magical and sacred creatures, but as workers, they simply cannot compete with people who are exo-digitally enhanced.)

This trend is going to continue. But it gets worse.

Just one year ago, it took an IT professional about three to four hours to on-board a new executive to our staff. First, we purchased a new computer, which the IT manager loaded up with Microsoft Office and all of the other programs we use. It was given access and permissions to our VPN, etc., etc., etc.

This year, it takes an IT professional about three to four seconds to accomplish the same goal. New execs use their own computers and receive a company email address, which grants them access to 100% of the business software we use through the cloud. Nothing downloaded, nothing patched, nothing purchased, nothing to tweak – just instant access to everything on any device our new execs might already have.

We no longer have house elves toiling racks of servers, no one is patching anything and no one is managing physical discs or licenses. We only need one IT person to administer email addresses and permissions. In practice, this is not even a full-time job, so six highly skilled people lost their jobs. We didn’t buy a new computer – Intel’s sales numbers tell the story. We now live in a post-PC world. We didn’t buy any physical media or use any gas to move the goods. UPS and FedEx need less people. We didn’t buy any local back-up drives – that entire value chain is negatively impacted.

Two curves are becoming obvious here. One is that exo-digitally enhanced humans are far more productive when compared to their non exo-digitally enhanced counterparts. The other is that unemployment of unskilled and 20th century skilled workers can only increase. It will never decrease. It can’t.

Stay tuned and look for Part 2, in which we’ll talk about endo-digitally enhanced humans. By 2025, it’s going to be a whole new ball game. Hang onto your iDevice!



Shelly Palmer

Shelly Palmer is Managing Director, Digital Media Group at Landmark Ventures/ShellyPalmer a technology focused Investment Banking & Advisory practice specializing in M&A, Financings, Strategic Partnerships and Innovation Access. He is Fox 5 New York's On-air Tech Expert and well known for his work on Fox Television's Shelly Palmer Digital Living as well as his daily radio report on United Stations Radio Networks. For more information, visit shellypalmer.com.


  1. usernaim250 says:

    There will always be sweated labor and even if there are fewer jobs for sweated labor it doesn’t mean we as a nation shouldn’t aim to keep manufacturing and service sector jobs and to keep them as high paying and rewarding and safe and environmentally safe as possible.

    Certain jobs will never be fully replaced. Our entire built environment is built by sweated labor. Someone has to make all those exo-enhancers. And cars. And someone has to clean, and cook, and take care of us etc.
    Further, nothing you have said about sweated labor is unique to it. As you have just argued, “skilled” labor too is on the decline. So it’s actually the same equation. We need good jobs period.

    • Shelly Palmer says:

      You may be right, but the scale will certainly diminish. To quote George Clark from his book, A Farewell to Alms, talking about work horses post-industrial revolution England, “There was always a wage at which all of these horses could have remained employed. But that wage was so low that it did not pay for the feed.” Translating human bio-mechanical energy into wealth will certainly meet with the same ultimate fate.

      • Paula Lynn says:

        People still need to be taught HOW to think to arrange thinking and apply thinking. There will still need to be people to change the diapers of patients in nursing homes for minimum wage and other invisible jobs. Even more radical is the absolute commitment to population control and governments absolute commitment to education. If one doubts either in that statement, one has not seen and absorbed the miseries of nothing of billions of people with no look see to anything beyond. Wars are not fought because the major populations have too many basic necessities with a little left over for betterment.

  2. con d says:

    Shelly I wish you would address this…..First, we purchased a new computer, New execs use their own computers

    What about Those who are barely struggling to stay out of moms basement are put at the back of the line at a job interview, because you still have an old power PC mac laptop and not the new mac air retina or Ipad or Iphone, because you are too scared to take on the monthly data cost?

  3. Ken Pyle says:

    Well said, Shelley. According to the Austian economists’ and their idea of creative destruction, obsolete jobs will be replaced by new jobs, such that employment should continue to grow and standards of living should rise because of improved productivity.

    Will this still be true in a world where labor is replaced by machine at such a rapid pace?

    In many ways, the quality of life seems to be improving, but are the jobs being replaced? Is some of the unemployment we are seeing, structural in nature and will education be enough to make up the difference? It seems like there is a gap of those who are working and those who aren’t working or are underemployed. Those who are employed are working harder than ever (and more concerned about losing their jobs).

    As those who work become even more efficient through their ex-digital enhancements, it seems like even fewer humans be required to fulfill the needs and wants of the entire population.

    A big question becomes how does society organize its economy in a world where 1% (pick a number) can fulfill the needs and wants of the rest of humanity?

    Of course beyond the pure exo-digital enhancements, the physical enhancements that will allow some to be “super human” and sort of a man-machine will have a huge impact on society and the economy (imagine the health care questions of whether an exo-skeleton is covered by health insurance).

  4. Detrick Ali says:

    Great article Shelly! Having computational power is one thing…but having the programs that can mimic the sophistication of a human is going to be the barrier to break. Where I work, the computers are the big powerful machines that runs excel. Where is the innovation in the apps? That’s going to be real challenge going forward. Until the IT workforce move from creating CRUD based applications to real meaningful transformative business applications, more powerful computers really aren’t going to be relevant.

  5. Guest says:

    I also wouldn’t mind the creation of device that allows us instantaneous data assimilation. A device that, with just one physical or mental activation, lets us adquire the knowledge of what things do and how processes develop in this current and upcoming technological environment.

    If such a device could be directly linked to our forebrain and be able to provide us of said “knowledge” by data display leading to perception and cognition, we could then focus our efforts into the philosophical, exsitential, theoretical or metaphysical thought constructs, the jobs of the future.

  6. JOhn says:

    This is only a taste of things to come factory robots make very few mistakes and fewer and fewer workers are needed in every day industry this does not however mean that the price of products will fall and with greater unemployment things are destined to become dire with elitist company’s begrudgingly paying tax for benefit systems and with unemployed people producing more children in order to claim more benefits world governments need to think about the very real effect this progress will have on our future and how to prepare for it.

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