Future of work: Smart glasses, holograms and AI-equipped robots will change our jobs

Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon says tech innovations will have a big impact on workers across industries

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iStock/Washington Post illustration
iStock/Washington Post illustration (iStock/Washington Post illustration)

The future of how we work will, in a few years, include smart glasses that transport workers into augmented or virtual reality environments, communicating with your co-workers via a hologram from anywhere in the world or relying on robots powered by artificial intelligence to help run manufacturing operations.

That’s the direction technology is headed, says Cristiano Amon, president and CEO of wireless chip firm Qualcomm. Amon, who started at Qualcomm 27 years ago as an engineer, rose through the ranks to take the top job at the San Diego-based company on June 30. Since becoming CEO, he has been working to diversify Qualcomm’s business from focusing primarily on chips for mobile phones to those used in self-driving cars, A.I.-enabled manufacturing machines and more powerful and battery-efficient laptops. He says Qualcomm’s biggest challenge now is the semiconductor industry not having enough supply to meet demand and hiring talented workers.

“Everything is becoming intelligent,” Amon said in a recent interview with The Washington Post. “We’ve been focused on providing all of the chips that go into all of those smart devices, whether it is a robot in manufacturing, whether it is a drone for agriculture, whether it’s a point of sale when in retail.”

The majority of Qualcomm’s growth is still being driven by chips for mobile phones. In the first quarter, the company reported net income of $3.4 billion on revenue of $10.71 billion, 56 percent of which came from the mobile chip business. But Amon highlighted the growth of other chip sets for connected devices, which increased nearly the same percentage as mobile chips.

Given that Qualcomm chips power many of the devices we use, we sat down with Amon to discuss how he sees technology transforming the way we will work in the future. The following interview has been edited for clarity.

‘Flexible’ workplace

Q: You announced last year that Qualcomm would implement a ‘flexible’ workplace. What does that look like now?

A: We are going to get everyone back to the office in about a couple of weeks, but different geographies may have already started. Employees wanted to keep the best of work from home, but also at the same time maintain the key elements of our culture like collaboration. People can work from home around three days in a week. Two days in a week, people are going to go into the office and every organization is going to pick one day of those two that everybody’s going to get back together at the same time.

Q: What does the future of work look like over time?

A: We think the next-generation PC for work from anywhere is going to be different and connected with 5G. We’re making improvements for augmented reality and virtual reality, as we think about a metaverse, to connect people in the office to people who are not in the office.

Qualcomm President and CEO Cristiano Amon spoke with The Post about the future of work and the impact of emerging technologies on his company on March 10. (Video: The Washington Post)

Q: What is the biggest technological barrier right now to making hybrid work more efficient?

A: High-performance connectivity is a very big one, especially because what we learned is work from anywhere requires high-quality video. We as a society just finally embraced video telephony as the killer application. We also need high-performance connectivity so you cannot only access information but collaborate with others. Having long battery life so you can actually do that from the cloud will also be important.

Tech at work

Q: What can tech companies like Qualcomm do to make the hybrid work transition easier for workers?

A: We have the ability to build on what we learned during the pandemic. The importance of video collaboration, for example, why not make that a hologram? More important is how can we build technology that allows people to remain productive wherever they are, not only having access to devices and in the cloud but having the ability to do that at a very high speed.

Video calls can be a pain for hybrid offices. Tech companies say relief is coming.

Q: How will developments in 5G change the way workers in different industries do their jobs in the future?

A: The role of 5G is very broad. 5G is the easiest way to have all your data in the cloud so everybody can access it remotely and protect all that data. 5G is changing manufacturing as you connect 5G to robots. They are now driven via the cloud, the data goes to the cloud, and you apply artificial intelligence to improve the data. 5G is changing retail, building indoor navigation systems. At many retail stores you can make an order online and somebody will handpick your product. How they navigate the store and locate everything [through in-store navigation systems requires 5G connectivity].

Q: For office workers, how will 5G change the devices needed for the future of work?

A: It’s already changing. At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, we announced together with Lenovo the very first ThinkPad laptop for the future of work. It is 5G-connected, and it is a laptop for the enterprise [workforce] with 28 hours of battery life. So that’s how we see the industry already adapting and building devices that are going to be needed for this work-from-anywhere environment.

Qualcomm President and CEO Cristiano Amon spoke with The Post about the future of work and the impact of emerging technologies on his company on March 10. (Video: The Washington Post)

The metaverse at work

Q: Will the metaverse ever be adopted by the masses and should we expect it to change the way we work?

A: The number of devices that are being built for virtual reality, augmented reality, mixed reality is not a small number by any metric. Tech is not far away from being able to have [smart] glasses. You’ll be able to walk into a room and capture the image, and it will immediately go to the Internet and say these are the connections you have with people, here’s information from this person’s social network. You can get trained on things that you don’t know. You get step-by-step instructions in your glasses. But more important, the future of how we communicate with each other is going to be via holograms. [Using holograms, remote workers would be able to project a 3D digital image of themselves into a physical meeting, capturing their expressions and body movements.]

Q: What are the metaverse applications to work?

A: Everybody is going back to the office. It used to be everybody is on Zoom or Teams or you get everybody in a conference room. When you mix the two, the experience is not that great. One key work application we’re seeing right now is how you can connect people that are not physically in a conference room with people that are, so that everybody has the same experience. The other application is how you think about working from home. When we launched the ThinkPad [from Lenovo], we also announced an accessory that goes along with it. You put on glasses and you’ll see external monitors around your laptop. We’re just at the beginning of that change.

Ask Help Desk: What you need to know about the future of working inside the metaverse

Q: How do you think technology providers will address the issues surrounding the metaverse — cost, bulkiness, uncomfortable physical side effects?

A: There are a lot of improvements coming. We see latency, or the time delay, becoming smaller and smaller as we get more advanced processors and faster connectivity. That helps prevent people from getting sick or nauseated. But more important is the significant development in form factors. We’re probably about two or three years away of having form factors that really look like glasses not a head mounted display. That’s going to give the metaverse significant scale.

Qualcomm President and CEO Cristiano Amon spoke with The Post about the future of work and the impact of emerging technologies on his company on March 10. (Video: The Washington Post)
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