Bull$hit jobs and the robot apocalypse

I went to SingularityU The Netherlands Summit in Haarlem this week and saw Rutger Bregman talk about Universal Basic Income, a controversial idea that has regained new traction recently with news that robots and A.I. are going to steal 80% jobs within 30 years. Luckily, my mortgage is due to be paid off by then but it is still a daunting prospect.

Mr Bregman observes that robots and other automation bogeymen have been taking ‘all our jobs’ since the dawn of the Industrial Age, this is just the latest chapter of a robot take-over that’s over 150 years old. The key difference this time being the shift from blue-collar robots taking low skilled jobs, towards white collar robots taking skilled jobs.

My fav part of his talk however, was at once reassuring and provocative. The idea that we don’t need to worry about robots taking white collar service industry jobs, like lawyers, auditors, call center operators or consultants. Why? Because…

Capitalism is historically very good at generating a lot of new bull$hit jobs.

According to Bregman, when a robot takes one job, a new equally useless and bull$hit job is created. Just look at the amount of experts on TV talking about their specialist bull$hit topics, at this point Bregman’s presentation shows a BBC News ‘Emoji Consultant’ on screen. According to Bregman (and I heard similar a week earlier at the Meaning conference in Brighton) — when researched, 40% people say they only do their job because they have to do something. Many people don’t like their jobs, and don’t think the job contributes anything meaningful to the world.

What might this all mean? Bregman suggests it means Universal Basic Income may be an answer to shifting almost half the working population away from bull$hit jobs that add no meaningful value beyond keeping people busy and generating income. Towards, people having the basic income support system that gives them space to think about what they do want to work on. Potentially something meaningful.

If, like me, you are asking yourself, ‘isn’t advertising and marketing at the sharp end of bull$hit jobs?’ Well, yeah, often times it kind of is. Research also tells us that creativity and empathy based jobs are least likely to be immediately affected by automation. Which means some form of our bull$hit jobs are here to stay (which is different from traditional agencies being here to stay for a while). Which begs the question, how can we find meaning and add real world value within marketing and advertising jobs? Purpose marketing has been on the rise in the past few years, adding a flavour of goodness to the bull$shit marketing and advertising serves up. At my company, WE ARE Pi, we have been lucky enough to find meaning in our work by pushing boundaries of what marketing can be, realising incredible projects like hosting experimental dance music festivals, co-creating new LEGO toys and creating documentaries charting the historical influence of underground black gay culture on house music and the world. My professional life is by no means bull$shit free. Instead of obsessing over a 100% no bull$hit solution, I’m trying to stay focused on work that matters to me, big or small — until the robots come and take everything!