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2024: The Year of Wicked Problems

With an incredible year of technological advances coming to a close, what is on the horizon in 2024? Unfortunately, there are some wicked problems that will need to be addressed quickly.

In the domain of design thinking, there is a concept called wicked problems. Wicked problems are highly complex, ill-defined, and extremely interconnected. They are not easily addressed with traditional problem-solving methodologies and don’t have a single definitive solution. Design thinking is a methodology optimized for these problems that require significant iteration, empathy, and collaboration. The design thinking process facilitates brainstorming, envisioning potential solutions to these problems, and working to narrow down the optimal path forward from a messy and often ambiguous landscape.

For Further Reading:

Generative AI and Its Implications for Data and Analytics

Understanding the Disruptive Nature of Generative AI

The AI Problem We’re Not Taking Seriously Enough

Many would say that 2023 was the year of AI in general or generative AI specifically. Following the lead of OpenAI, a large number of new and groundbreaking generative AI technologies have been launched this year, upending the clarity around what the future will look like. From generative text and artwork to graphics and audio -- and even video -- the boundary between computer-generated and human-generated material has become blurry, almost indistinguishable.

This new explosion of generative AI brings with it many wicked problems that will be the focus of companies, governments, and especially professionals in the data analytics field in the coming year. These problems will require society as a whole to come together and work in new and creative ways to develop solutions.

In 2024, three main wicked problems will need to be addressed: the delicate human-machine relationship; the cybercrime, cybersecurity, and governance element; and the transformational societal impacts of generative AI.

Human-Machine Relationship

As machines become more capable of performing tasks that were once the purview of humans, the question that will have to be addressed is what will humans evolve to do next. This wicked problem is not simple, and empathy is a top requirement when working through solutions. As machines take on these knowledge-based roles once filled only by humans, can humans evolve?

During the Industrial Revolution, people transitioned from an agrarian society and moved to factory lines. During the information revolution, many manual laborers from the factory lines moved into a knowledge-based office environment. The skills needed evolved at a gradual pace over decades. When machines are outperforming humans in knowledge-based work, what is the next evolution for humans? Will training and development be enough, or will this transformation leave an entire generation without the meaningful skills needed to survive until education can be reimagined and a new set of skills developed? Also, do we even know what those skills look like yet so we can reimagine education? Where will the road map for data and analytics skills take us as computers are able to perform these tasks faster and more accurately than humans?

One of the reasons this is such a wicked problem is due to how many people it can potentially impact and how quickly it will need to be solved to avoid the devastation of human lives. The machines are here to take many of the jobs, but is there a plan for where humans will go next? In the new year, increased attention to this wicked problem will demand top minds to identify potential solutions that can be refined, tested, and incrementally implemented across the domains of education and business.

Cybercrime, Cybersecurity, and Governance

As generative AI becomes the norm, gone will be the days of easy-to-catch cybercrime. It will become increasingly complex, harder to detect, and more widespread due to criminals’ capability to scale their activity. This will change the way law enforcement agencies need to react to and manage crime. They will have to rethink their approaches to dealing with human criminals when advanced technology is at the heart of every level of crime.

Inside companies, cybersecurity will become increasingly challenging. Unlike in the past, cybersecurity professionals will have to partner with analytics professionals to develop methods that increasingly rely on weak signals in the data to identify fraudulent activity. Models associated with discernment will need to be continuously refined to compete in the rapidly evolving cybersecurity landscape.

As generative AI tools become more comprehensive, questions of intellectual property, data security, data classification, and data privacy will take center stage. Companies will need to wrestle with the questions of what is deemed acceptable use of their company data and the private data for which they are stewards.

Transformational Societal Impacts

These transformations not only impact businesses but have larger-scale impacts on society. If humans are displaced by the implementation of advanced analytics and machine learning, which can provide equal or superior productivity, and humans cannot evolve quickly enough (or at all), is there a societal social net to fall back on? If the productivity gains centralize wealth at the top of the economic landscape, does this result in mass unemployment and extreme wealth inequality? How will this impact developed nations and developing nations?

These are the wicked problems that governments around the world will have to tackle by identifying creative solutions that will have a positive impact on society. In addition, will the extreme polarization of political thinking further enhanced by advanced algorithmic information sharing and prioritization preclude us from coming together in unity to address these challenges in a timely manner?

When addressing wicked problems associated with society, there are often archaic laws and regulations that hinder our ability to move fast and efficiently in the iterative design thinking approach. Can these be changed rapidly enough to enable the iterative approach to problem-solving that will allow us to address these wicked problems?

Final Thoughts

With the amazing advancements in technology in 2023, 2024 will be the year of coming to terms with the fact that there are some significant wicked problems that need attention and solutions. It is important to understand that the goal is not to come up with a single solution, but rather to find answers to many of the small and interconnected challenges and iteratively work to identify and implement creative solutions that together start to address the larger problem. This coming year will be a critical time for businesses, governments, and societies to grow into this new and data-driven world.

About the Author

Troy Hiltbrand is the senior vice president of digital product management and analytics at where he is responsible for its enterprise analytics and digital product strategy. You can reach the author via email.

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