“I am very trusting when it comes to technology”
LUKAS HOLTER, 27, is a member of the management team at the Vienna-based Campaigning Bureau, a company that advises political organisations and NGOs, creates campaigns, and provides ongoing support. Holter studied communications at university and was very young when he joined the company. “There will always be a need for a space where people physically come together,” he said at “Talk to the Future of Work”. Our conversation takes place on a warm summer’s day in an air-conditioned meeting room at the Campaigning Bureau offices; the company is based in an elegant nineteenth-century building on Vienna’s Franz-Josefs-Kai.
Lukas, in your role for the Campaigning Bureau you focus on the (near) future for your clients: companies and organisations, NGOs and policymakers. Does that apply to your own job too? Can you imagine that in ten years’ time you’ll still do what you’re doing at the moment?
LUKAS HOLTER: Yes, it’s our clients’ near future that we are concerned with, and we try to influence that in a positive way. How they position themselves, organise themselves such that in future they continue to reach the right people and encourage them to take action. That is our core skill: mobilising people, inspiring them. Can I imagine still doing this job in ten years’ time? Yes, I can. This morning I listened to a fascinating podcast with the political scientist Barbara Prainsack, on the topic of the “future of work”. She assumes that routine jobs in particular will be done by machines or computer programmes. Artificial intelligence is already being used more and more widely today. But Ms Prainsack also says that the conversation is leaning more towards the idea that jobs will not be completely taken over. Apart from pure production line jobs.
LUKAS HOLTER:…exactly. Or work that is one hundred per cent predictable, rote tasks. In most cases, it will be more a matter of working out which part of the job can be done by artificial intelligence. It’s impossible to imagine all the things that artificial intelligence will be able to do. The colleague who sits opposite me is our head of development. He can talk with much more imaginative insight about which aspects of my role could already be taken over by AI. I naively tend to imagine it’s very little. At least I imagine that if I wanted to, I could still be doing my job in ten years’ time. Because I would describe my role as creative synthetic thinking, so it’s not a function that is predictable. When I work on clients’ campaigns and with organisations that aim to mobilise people, where it is fundamentally about interaction between humans, then it’s the emotional aspect that will remain important and distinctive in the future too. What we try to do with our clients is to get away from this generic, automated communication. Of course, we do automate some communications and work with mass communication media in our campaigns. But even then we try to create communications that people recognise as humans addressing humans. So I certainly believe that this field of work will continue to be one where it is difficult for artificial intelligence to completely take over, at least for a long time yet.
Artificial intelligence also means surveillance, analysis of your individual activities. Does that worry you?
LUKAS HOLTER: I am very trusting when it comes to technology. There has been coverage just recently in the media about FaceApp, which so many people trusted with their data. I was on the point of downloading this app – just because it’s fun. People who take a negative view of our style of campaigning say we are data-gobbling monsters. We are well aware that people aren’t stupid. If FaceApp had said, “We need your faces to improve facial recognition, please take a photo!” no-one would do it. If you approach this kind of data gathering as clumsily as that, no-one participates. But in fact there is also value in it for users; in the case of FaceApp it was entertainment. In our campaigns there is really a benefit to users, because, for example, you receive a service, because you get to know more, because you receive premium content. People are totally ready to share their data if there is some value in it for themselves. Artificial intelligence, technology – in this field data is like the fuel, to put it in a positive light, that makes the whole thing more user-friendly, better, more relevant. Of course, if you see it in a negative way, it is all about spying on you, finding out about your life and wanting to sell you stuff.
Perhaps the main issue is to make sure that people know that, that they are aware. Maybe what’s more sinister is the fact that we don’t think about this enough. In the discussion you said that you dream about beaming yourself to other places. That was to do with people still needing to deal directly with each other for work in the future. Will we always need to communicate?
LUKAS HOLTER: We are social beings. I firmly believe that we humans tended to get together even back when we lived in caves, and that even now there are very few who are really suited to a hermit existence. We seek out connections with other people. Above all, and this is a fundamental basis for our method of campaigning, people look for kindred spirits. People who tick the same way as we do, who see the world the same way. For example when we talk about whether the concepts of work and leisure will exist at all in the future, or whether they will merge, so that everyone turns their hobby into a profession. But people will always want to interact with other people. Maybe one day virtual reality will be so advanced that this feeling can be replicated. That I won’t actually need to be in the same place. Or that getting from one place to another will be so quick that I leave virtual reality and actually physically meet up with someone. But one day virtual reality will probably use all our senses anyway.
But for now, it is still important to be in the same place, isn’t it?
LUKAS HOLTER: As a manager, it is very difficult to manage someone who has absolutely no physical connection to the company. We talked about purpose-driven work, that people seek out companies that suit them. But if someone just sits at home in front of the computer and works for one company today, and tomorrow for another one, and never really has a sense of what those companies are like – how can we expect an emotional bond to develop – loyalty, a shared sense of responsibility?
You mentioned the key word “purpose”. What is the point of work, as you see it?
LUKAS HOLTER: I’m still wondering. I’m having another phase where I’m thinking about what I see as my personal mission. Although I’m very comfortable with the mission that we have set ourselves as a company. We dream of a world where companies are more than just grey boxes where you take a ticket and get something. Instead they could be places where the passion and enthusiasm are tangible. I dream of a world where fewer people are unhappy when they go to work, where they aren’t frustrated by their dealings with a company. A world in which everyone spreads positive energy amongst themselves. That’s a vision that makes me excited about the future.