Editor’s Note: This article is one of a special series of 14 commissioned essays MIT Sloan Management Review is publishing to celebrate the launch of our new Frontiers initiative. Each essay gives the author’s response to this question:
“Within the next five years, how will technology change the practice of management in a way we have not yet witnessed?”
Currently, only top managers have human executive assistants, but in the near future, everyone who has a smartphone can have a digital executive assistant. This will be made possible by the “mobile cloud” — technology that integrates the convenience of the mobile phone with the power of cloud computing. The mobile phone interface will shift toward interactive voice communication — just like communicating with a human assistant — but your digital agent will be able to access and search vast amounts of information in the cloud almost instantaneously, enabling quicker and better decisions.
Setting up meetings, making appointments, organizing trips, coauthoring documents, and accessing databases and dashboards will all become much simpler, more intuitive, and more convenient.
Today, the low-cost communications and computing power available to even small enterprises is dramatically more powerful than what even the largest multinational corporations could afford 20 years ago. This has led to the growth of “micro-multinationals” — small startup firms that are born global. Real-time machine translation will make global operations even easier. One person can speak English while the other hears a real-time translation into Chinese. This is now possible in the lab but will be available to everyone within the next few years.
Management inherently involves organizing groups of people to get things done, and communication is a key piece of organization. In the future, there will not only be more person-to-person and person-to-agent communication, but more agent-to-agent communication.
How will this work? Suppose that you want to meet with a colleague. You will ask your digital agent to negotiate with his or her digital agent to schedule a meeting. When the meeting happens — either in person or online — both of your agents will listen in on the meeting and transcribe the results into text that can subsequently be searched and accessed as needed. The meeting notes can be algorithmically edited and summarized.
But workday meetings are only part of the story; sometimes you want to get together just for fun.