The Future Of Work
How would you feel if you never had to work another day of your life? No more alarm clocks buzzing before dawn. No more waiting in traffic during your commute. No more work.
What would you do all day? Sure, waking up later, going to the gym, and finally reading that book on your nightstand suddenly become more manageable. But I argue that we as humans are programmed to work.
The paradox of work is that many people hate their jobs, but are considerably more miserable doing nothing. The sanctity and preeminence of work lie at the heart of the country’s economics, social interactions, and politics. So, what would happen if work goes away?
To this day, the once legendary city of Detroit is recovering from the collapse of the auto industry. The story behind the collapse of the “Motor City” is often pointed towards events that occurred over a half-century ago — factory closings, race riots, urban renewal, segregation, and more. These events were certainly important, as they produced a catastrophic drop in population.
By 1950, the population peaked at almost 1.85 million. Folks moved to Detroit to work at the Big Three auto companies: Ford, General Motors and Chrysler. Suddenly, at the height of the auto boom, manufacturers began to restructure their manufacturing process and incorporate automation. The risks of the city’s reliance on a single industry became ever so apparent. Detroit lost a staggering 600,000 residents between 1950 and 1980. In 2013, Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history.
A stat to put everything in context is what Derek Thompson learned: In 1964, the nation’s most valuable company, AT&T, was worth $267 billion in today’s dollars and employed 758,611 people. One of today’s giants, Apple, is worth $2 trillion, but has only about 137,000 employees. That’s five and a half times less than the size of AT&T’s workforce in its heyday.
Over the last few decades, society has faced several shifts in the labor market. The industrial revolution moved people out of farms and into factories. Populations shifted from rural areas to big cities in order to work. Throughout these reshufflings, the total number of jobs has always increased. With robots and automation, this paradigm is no longer true.
Forbes listed customer service, production line, and retail checkout as three of the most likely jobs to be replaced by technology. Amazon Go stores are proving that to be accurate. Go stores are the first of its kind where no checkout is required. Customers simply enter the store using the Amazon Go app, and then shop as normal. While you browse the store, cameras and sensors track what you take. Amazon recently announced a new product called the Dash Cart to augment their stores current tracking systems. The technology creates a virtual cart that automatically charges you as you walk out the store.
Despite this, society is unwilling to entertain a possibility in which robots perform all of our menial tasks. What may be looming ahead is something very different than what we have dealt with before. An era of technological unemployment, in which computer scientists and software engineers invent us out of traditional work. The total number of jobs will decline steadily and permanently, contributing to the continual rise in unemployment.
In 1962, President John F. Kennedy said, “If men have the talent to invent new machines that put men out of work, they have the talent to put those men back to work.” Despite this statement being six decades old, it has never been more accurate. As jobs disappear, we face new challenges and require new skills to invent new jobs to replace the outdated ones.
As robots, AI, and automation take our jobs, we are left with a huge void in our day to day lives. This void will not be filled with traditional jobs. I see three buckets of “work” in our future. The jobs that can’t be replaced, gig/artisanal work, and utopians.
In the midst of the Great Depression, the economist John Maynard Keynes forecast that technological progress might allow a 15-hour workweek, and abundant leisure, by 2030. On the contrary, post-workists argue that Americans work so hard because their culture has conditioned them to feel guilty when they are not being productive, and that this guilt will fade as work ceases to be the norm.
The industries of the future are duly named. Individuals who work in biomedicine won’t be replaced anytime soon. The industry is still in the early phases, where humans need to research and test theories. As these kind of industries become more and more advanced, we will start to see more automation and robots come into play.
On the other hand, the supply chain industry is on the verge of being fully automated with self-driving vehicles and “Cobots” or collaborative robots. Robots will be on the assembly line while humans stand there in oversight, reminiscing about their old job.
This shift means factory workers need a whole new skill set to survive. Not every company can afford the time and cost of retraining their workers. We are quite literally inventing ourselves out of jobs.
Working from home the last few months has certainly amplified the need for additional ways to make an income. That’s where the artisan and gig economy come into play.
With the rise of online marketplaces like Shopify and Etsy, the artisan community is making a much-needed comeback. Consumer trends have shifted towards objects of self-expression and customization, allowing makers to flourish.
Hobbies where you create goods, like pottery and sewing, will become a new type of work. Others will embrace technology to build complex worlds in VR or 3D print items. Sites like Etsy and Shopify will continue to grow at an outlandish pace as more and more goods become available.
Whether or not you have artistic abilities, it is arguably easier than ever to find short-term employment. Paradoxically, technology is the reason why. A wide variety of internet-based companies match humans with work, including Uber (for drivers), DoorDash (for meal deliverers), and TaskRabbit (for just about anything else). Welcome to the gig-economy.
The number of “temporary-help services” workers has grown by 50 percent since 2010, and roughly 11% of U.S. workers are getting their full-time income from the gig economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As traditional jobs fades into the background, a whole new category of work arises. Utopians are the citizens who reimagine economic, political, and social structures. They also spend a lot of time trying to solve problems. Utopians are people who have the greater good of society in mind while using the advanced technology we have to address issues. Their time is spent brainstorming and executing ways to better our existing lives.
More than 80% of our ocean is unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored. We can create the technology to further explore the oceans. About 690 million people globally are undernourished. We can figure out a way to not only give food to those in need, but also help them grow a sustainable food source. These people will start taking a deeper look at solving the current and future problems society face.
The future of work isn’t necessarily doing menial tasks like food delivery or sitting there thinking all day. It’s more of a culture shift where we start to accept the 9–5 doesn’t exist anymore. The way of the future is a free-flowing day, where you work as you please. No longer do we revolve our lives around work. Work now revolves around us.
Displacing a workforce should go hand in hand with UBI. As real jobs go away, so do paychecks and benefits. Working gigs or selling artisanal crafts won’t likely fully replace a yearly salary. Therefore, we should be augmenting incomes with some sort of UBI package that includes universal healthcare. We are inventing ourselves out of jobs and shouldn’t be forced to adopt new skills that fit with modern society without some sort of government relief.
Universal basic income, or UBI, guarantees pay at a constant interval of time, designed to replace or augment a traditional salary. UBI varies based on the funding proposal, the level of payment, the frequency of payment, and the particular policies proposed around it.
Universal basic income will replace lost wages, but it would do little to preserve the social benefits of work. As I stated in the beginning of this article, I argue that we as humans are programmed to work.
As folks adopt to a new lifestyle, UBI provides comfort in knowing you will get some sort paycheck each month. UBI is here for everyone to be able to afford the necessities while in a transition phase. We would have the issue of those who think it’s okay to sit around and not contribute to society with a monthly stipend coming in. That’s the caveat with UBI. How do we efficiently distribute money, yet prevent people from taking advantage of the system?
With this, we start to experience the very beginning of a utopian society. Where the ultimate resource, time, is looked at and spent differently than today. In a utopian society, all citizens are treated equally and with dignity. We do not live with fear, we are safe and protected by our government, businesses, and friends. Everyone is equal. Nothing is anonymous. Everything is available. Nothing is owned. You can live your life.
In an utopian society, we no longer revolve our lives around work. Instead, we are free to indulge on the pleasures and experiences we only thought imaginable. Robots and automation have replaced our jobs, and now only those who want to work, work. Our time can be spent in any fashion.
Global warming has reversed, animals aren’t endangered, and driver licenses are a thing of the past. Supply will finally equal demand, therefore the cost of goods will be substantially lower than they are now. As we order things, they are created and delivered on the spot. By robots of course. Income is in the shape of UBI, where we are allotted digital credits, to spend as we feel necessary.
Technology will be advanced beyond our current imagination. Instead of multiple devices, we will only have one. Inside of us. This device will pump artificial sensory perceptions right into the main sensory nerve bundles as they enter the brain. You can call your friends and talk “telepathically” or watch a movie without looking at a screen. The options are limitless.
On the contrary, a dystopian society could take place. Where robots and AI deem us useless and imprison us. Only our basic needs are met, and few true humans remain an active, contributing factor to society. Our worst nightmare comes true, as robots rule the world.
What does the “end of work” mean, exactly? It does not mean the immediate decimation of traditional employment. Nor is unemployment going to rise drastically within the next decade. Rather, technology will exert a slow but continual pressure on the value and availability of the traditional job. Eventually, this will create a new normal, where the expectation that work will be a central feature of adult life dissipates for a significant portion of society.
Instead, we will strive to create a utopian society. Or fail to realize our potential and end up in a dystopian world. Only time will tell which world we end up living in.
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