Technology has always existed to make work easier and to that end, it has been incredibly successful. But what happens when the technology simply does our work for us? 

In his book “Zero to One”, Peter Thiel of PayPal and Palantir reminds us not to become spoiled by the idea that the future will happen, because, unless we actively design and implement that future, it won’t be the one that we get. 

Here in my state of North Carolina, where technology is pervasive in a variety of industries, there is a continuous discussion about employment and economy. Further, the entrepreneurial fire has grown hotter and larger over the past several years, triggering a period of job creation, especially in the digital and biological tech industries. But even with the state’s continued low unemployment rates and fast population growth, projections still show that nearly 1.2 million jobs will be made redundant by automation in coming decades. (This interactive chart details the projected job loss by North Carolina county.)

Factor also innovation coming from North Carolina companies such as IBM’s Watson learning machine division and Automated Insights, with its content-writing robot Wordsmith, and there is a sense of cognitive dissonance in the conversation. Are these companies actually taking jobs from humans by automating skills we rely on? Will we adapt quickly enough to feed people into the new workforce? Is our education infrastructure prepared to instill the next generation of workforce skills?

The Institute for Emerging Issues at NC State is hosting the 31st Annual Emerging Issues Forum next Monday and Tuesday, February 8–9. The event, named “FutureWork,” is themed around the above issues and helping communities and companies in North Carolina prepare for the impact of automation and intelligent machines. 

It’s a a unique opportunity for leaders and workforce members to be involved in a big picture discussion with academics, policy makers and even global experts on the topic, as well as present their concerns and learn more about automation innovation and how various organizations are preparing for its impact. This forum will be the first to be televised live on UNC-TV, allowing even those who can’t attend to take part. 

Speakers and panel discussions during the first day, at the Raleigh Convention Center, will explore what North Carolina is doing and can do to prepare for the upcoming future. As the innovators responsible for both creating and implementing new technologies and work methodologies, this is a perfect discussion for entrepreneurs. They’ll need to be aware of the impact their technology development has on the larger economy, and factor the types of employees they’ll need to continue that work.

The second day of FutureWork, held at NC State’s Hunt Library, will involve hackathon sessions designed to identify and dig into the obstacles presented by technological automation and the predicted market changes, and then create actionable plans and frameworks to address them. These hackathon sessions will be industry specific, including banking & finance, education, energy, healthcare and government/smart communities. Local leaders in each industry will be involved in each session to give their perspectives and help guide the discussion. 

Speakers throughout the two-day event include Governor Pat McCroryMartin Ford, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author of “Rise of the Robots”; Vivek Wadhwa, nationally-syndicated columnist and former Duke University professor; Dambisa Moyo, an international economist and futurist; and Jaylen Bledsoe, a 17-year-old tech entrepreneur and motivational speaker from St. Louis. They’ll be joined by local industry leaders, startup founders and educators, along with the Institute for Emerging Issues executive director Anita and its board members.

Digital automation, robot manufacturers, machine learning and electronic decision-making may have all been fantasies just decades ago, but they are now realities in our industries today. Many of these technologies are being pioneered right here in North Carolina too. I personally doubt that jobs will ever deplete; as long as we have problems, there will be work to do. It is still a question, however, if we are producing the workers and leadership capable of identifying and solving these problems quickly enough to create and fill those jobs in the upcoming environment. The Future of Work is a discussion that has already begun among thought leaders and experts, but needs to be formally addressed by everyone touched by the economy. 

Again, the future will happen, with or without our permission, but only the future that we actively create today will manifest tomorrow. If we don’t replace fear with understanding, ideas and strategies, we will miss the chance to inject our vision into this upcoming paradigm shift and will have to adapt to the consequences rather than direct them. And so regardless of our employment scenario now or in the future, we have at least one more job to do.

Tickets are still available and range in price from $195 for a single day pass for an educator or government worker to $350 for a general admission two-day pass.