Contrary to what sensational headlines may tell you, robots will not take over the world in the next five years. And though nearly half of all U.S. jobs are currently susceptible to computer takeovers, robots will not steal our jobs just yet.
This futuristic technology is, however, helping to facilitate one of the largest paradigm shifts of the 21st century: The rampant expansion of the gig economy — which has seen 27 percent more growth than traditional payroll employment over the past two decades — and the rise in prominence of what are known as “one-person businesses.”
One-person businesses aren’t just run by entrepreneurs who are trying to change the world, and they don’t just represent traditional freelancers who temporarily fill a role for a company. These are “normal” people who believe they can achieve the best outcomes for themselves by completing one-off projects on a full-time basis. They’re looking to accomplish a task they feel passionate about, get paid, and then move on to the next assignment elsewhere at their leisure.
Cutting-edge technology is making it easier than ever for one-person businesses to find meaningful, steady work — and, as a result, we are going to see some major changes in how today’s (and tomorrow’s) working world operates.
The marketplace revolution
In just the past few years, hundreds of tech startups have emerged to connect one-person businesses from across the globe with companies and individuals who need specific tasks accomplished. These matchmaking services — such as Upwork, Fiverr, Gig, and 99designs — are vast marketplaces poised to completely revolutionize how companies approach the gig economy.
Companies used to deal with the headache of creating and maintaining their own lists of preferred freelancers. Then, whenever they needed to outsource a project, they would go down their lists one by one until they found someone willing to complete the assignment.
Today, companies can hop online at any given moment, browse through a list of high-quality candidates, and find someone who will happily get the job done on time and on budget.
As awareness builds around how easily skilled workers can find meaningful work in gig marketplaces, we’ll see even more one-person businesses emerge in the coming years. In response, tech entrepreneurs will create additional platforms that link them to projects. The gig economy will continue to grow, and before we know it, marketplaces will exist for every niche skill under the sun.
Yet, even with all this exciting growth and development, we have only scratched the surface when it comes to how technology will assist this transformation. Three growing realms of technology will seep into the gig economy and continue enhancing the experience for all involved parties.
AI will reliably connect buyers with sellers
Expect artificial intelligence to play a key role in facilitating the matchmaking process. Upon logging into a marketplace, users will converse with a bot that can identify their specific needs and match them with appropriate one-person businesses.
We are already seeing AI-driven platforms — Drippler, for example — begin to take strides toward providing useful tech support to consumers. Simple questions are answered by a bot, while more complex questions are routed toward an active community of users who can provide better advice.
Ultimately, the goal will be to remove human intervention altogether and completely automate the matchmaking process — but work remains to be done before that can happen.
Bot technology is still nascent. While companies like Microsoft have recently progressed in the realm of speech recognition, the next step is creating bots that can decipher the intent behind that speech. For example, if a buyer tells a bot, “I need a new logo,” it should be able to gather enough context to determine whether the buyer is more interested in a one-person business that guarantees a speedy delivery, one that creates extremely unique products, or one that offers the cheapest rates.
AI is not yet able to achieve this level of granularity, but once it can, bots will serve as autonomous matchmakers across all industries within the gig economy.
The IoT will provide transparency, grow trust, and ensure quality
According to Gartner, more than 6 billion IoT devices are currently in use, and Cisco predicts that number will grow to 50 billion by 2020. Whether in our homes, in our offices, or in our pockets, these gadgets constantly collect data that will be leveraged to build trust between buyers and sellers in gig marketplaces.
Uber, for example, uses connected technology to assess the habits of its drivers and study everything from the routes they take to how hard they jam on the breaks. This helps the ride sharing marketplace accurately judge the quality of its sellers and provide a safe, consistent experience for users.
On the buyer side, IoT devices can be used to track and verify the work done by one-person businesses. Food delivery service Postmates, for example, uses GPS technology to allow buyers to track their couriers’ locations in real time, and this transparency enhances the buyer’s experience while building marketplace trust.
According to an Addison Group study, 94 percent of hiring managers are already more confident in the gig economy than they were five years ago — and this number will keep climbing as the IoT grows at breakneck speeds.
Expect gig marketplaces to continue finding new and creative ways to utilize connected technology. Smart cameras, phones, thermostats, motion detectors, and even refrigerators will all help verify the output and quality of tomorrow’s one-person businesses.
Cryptocurrencies will provide liquidity and increase globalization
Lastly, the growing world of cryptocurrency has the potential to create highly liquid marketplaces and transform how one-person businesses get paid.
When buyers pay one-person businesses through cryptocurrencies, the cost-per-transaction shrinks drastically because banks (and their hefty transaction fees) are removed from the process. Far fewer steps are required as a whole; therefore, payments could theoretically occur in real time.
Further, the use of cryptocurrency promises to break down international roadblocks within gig marketplaces. Removing exchange rates and localized economic quirks from the equation makes both pricing and payments infinitely easier for buyers and sellers.
As an example, a fundraising marketplace called Funderbeam utilizes cryptocurrency to connect startups seeking money with global investors. Using this process, the company has raised money from investors living in 57 countries. This exact concept could scale to other gig economies and assist in safe, quick, cost-effective money transfers between international buyers and one-person businesses.
The gig economy has come a long way in the past decade, but its best days are yet to come. These three technologies will continue to evolve, and it’s only a matter of time before companies of all sizes meaningfully gravitate toward hiring more one-person businesses to cut costs, increase productivity, and gain the ability to quickly scale up or down based on their real-time needs.
Amit Maimon is an entrepreneur currently serving as the SVP of product innovation at ADP and leading Lifion, a special ADP venture that builds the next generation of tech products and services to help organizations and people grow in their professional endeavors. Read his blog at simplybroken.com, and follow him on Twitter.