Work or Leisure forced by technology
Parag. Walavalkar

This post reminds me of the readings that we discussed in class back in week 3. I won’t rehash the whole discussion, but a couple of key points were:

Despite our class discussion, there’s a lot of evidence that how we work is changing right now. One factor driving that change is big data and ICT, which are (among other effects) influencing our processes and enabling productivity optimisation. In this Planet Money podcast, the future of work is discussed (it’s worth noting that this podcast episode originally ran back in 2014). The podcast claims that “a worker surrounded by sensors and computers can be better than any robot”. It basically proposes that optimisation enabled and supported by big data could lead to major productivity gains and cost savings (and does in the case of UPS and its drivers). It focuses on a very specific case. However, I think if that episode were being recorded today that the conversation might be quite different and would focus on how technology could potentially replace those drivers (e.g. self-driving cars or drone deliveries as an alternative).

There’s certainly a recent Forrester report which predicts that by 2021 6% of jobs in the US will have been replaced by robots. And this cheery* article from the Guardian which considers what life might be like when (not if, when) jobs become obsolete. The article suggests that we are failing to adequately prepare for this inevitable future and also that technology developments are responsible for the current growth in “low-wage, low-productivity employment” and people accepting “dismally low wages” because they don’t have another choice. And while I’m linking Guardian articles on this particular topic, intelligent robots may well be imminent given that British standards for robot ethics, believed to be the first standard of this kind, have been published.

As you’ve pointed out, current predictions seem to indicate that the work available for people might be disappearing in the near future. I’m concerned about the potential social implications if this doom and gloom work-replaced-by-technology future emerges — will the world be broken into the class of tech moguls and everyone else? Will this create a new class or hierarchy structure? Are we developing our very own dystopian future? Or will we evolve to find new skillsets that are human strengths and technology will continue to be merely a tool and enabler? Part of me believes that work survived the industrial revolution and will survive this change too. But there’s a lot of evidence and predictions to the contrary right now…

*please note sarcasm, this is really quite a depressing article!