Ready or not, the age of A.I. has come to the furniture industry | Bill McLoughlin


The cover story in this issue focuses on the emerging technology revolution and the impact it’s already making across the furniture industry. Much of that focus is on artificial intelligence (A.I.), which promises to be as disruptive in its impact as the Industrial Revolution more than 100 years ago and the widespread adoption of the Internet a generation ago.

One major reason for that is the sheer breadth of applications for this technology, which will cut across industries, processes, employment roles and more, potentially touching on every facet of people’s personal and professional lives.

In a recent report, the International Monetary fund projected that 40% of jobs globally will be impacted by A.I. While pointing out that historical advances in automation and information technology have impacted routine tasks and low skilled employment, A.I. is reversing that model. The IMF report projects that in advanced economies, which have a larger number of high-skilled occupations, A.I. could impact as much as 60% of jobs.

For the furniture industry, the potential applications for A.I. are vastly impacting everything from forecasting and product design to logistics, marketing and customer engagement. And as with previous advances in technology, A.I. is likely to create decisive competitive advantages for those who embrace it over those who do not.

It is certain to reshape the employment landscape, altering existing roles, eliminating others and creating new positions that do not currently exist and have not yet been imagined. A simple corollary would be the myriad positions available today in the digital and social marketing field. These roles did not exist and were not conceived at the outset of the Internet age or before social media’s adoption.

In speaking with a wide range of industry executives for this story, it was noteworthy that the most historically cited barrier to adoption — internal resistance to change — was rarely mentioned when talking about A.I. This likely stems from its already widespread use across myriad business activities and its almost immediate acceptance and usage in society at large.

Instead, it is the technology’s sheer breadth of use and the operational challenge of moving from the current to the future state without disrupting business operations that appeared top of mind with decision makers. Unlike with Internet and social media adoption, the industry has skipped the “should we” stage and gone straight to “how to” implement.

That bodes well for the industry’s ability to adapt successfully to this latest technological sea change. If there is another lesson to be learned from the Internet and social media revolutions it is that those who spend too much time assessing, analyzing and implementing are likely to find themselves passed by those willing to take some level of risk and engage in widespread experimentation.

Beware the lesson of those who early on said “find a Millennial in your office to do your social media” and found themselves rendered irrelevant by a fast-moving generation of soon-to-be influence powerhouses.

The implementation of A.I. requires — almost demands — a separate experimentation team to try, fail, experiment and try again. That could be the first new jobs created around this technology.

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