When you couple blockchain with AI, it could spell the end for a lot of jobs. But is this a bad thing?
Well, let’s first take a look at the situation that we find ourselves in, which happens to be ripe for disruption.
The Current State of Affairs
Failures of Democracy
Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried — Winston Churchill
We see a lot of people complain about the failures of government, and specifically how our current form of democracy is failing us. Unfortunately, we’ve yet to come up with a better way, but that doesn’t mean that we should always keep doing what we’ve done (queue that favored quote about insanity).
The failure in democracy may not be democracy in and of itself, but the form and structure of our current governments. Consider the multitude of layers that exist up and down the government stack, and the unbelievably extreme levels of bureaucracy that are attached to every single initiative or change in law. While we definitely don’t want to move to an authoritarian form of government, we can at least say that reducing the amount of resources (people) and resistance (bureaucracy) would help streamline our current systems.
Some bills and laws take 5–7 years to move through the entire process. Can you remember where we were from a technological perspective 7 years ago? If government can’t even keep up with the pace of technology (which is only accelerating by the way) and social change, how are they supposed to govern effectively?
Takeaway: Governing bodies need to dramatically step up their game and figure out how to govern without the bottlenecks and overhead.
Work Dissatisfaction & The Gig Economy
Many (most?) people dislike what they are doing. Even if they are making enough money and are on the “proper” career track (you know, the one they planned for themselves) they still aren’t happy. It may stem from a lack of passion, or authenticity, but the result is people simply checking in and checking out for a pay check when they would rather be doing almost anything else. Or at the very least something that provides a little bit more inspiration and intrinsic value.
This could be one of the significant catalysts of the Gig Economy. While folks working on a side hustle, like driving for Lift, may not in fact be any more fulfilled in that job, they are at least beginning to open a door of potential liberation from their 9–5 that is killing their soul.
Takeaway: People are ready to work on things they find important and valuable, and be compensated for their good work.
Distrust of the Establishment
Even if you put concerns with the government and our current state of democracy aside, we’re still left with a fairly heavy helping of distrust for traditional establishments that are necessary evils in our lives.
Trust is at an all time low, and nobody really knows where any of their hard earned money goes, whether that’s money going to taxes or invisible costs on the goods and services that we purchase (tariffs anyone?). There is a perception (often proven out) that the efficiency of traditional establishments is lacklustre at best, and entirely ineffective at worst, and that half the time the powerful folks in charge are either being overpaid or acting in otherwise nefarious ways to maximize their profit and personal gain.
Takeaway: Citizens desire more trust and transparency in the systems and organizations that support us.
Where does that leave us: Citizens of the world are ready for a new paradigm that simplifies the way we are governed, improves trust in our society and liberates people to do the work their meant for.
Chains and Code…to the Rescue?
So where do blockchains and AI come in? By disrupting trust and transparency, by disintermediating traditional organizations, by automating jobs (including those that nobody wants to do), and by restructuring ownership and the balance of value.
Organizations & Services Built on Blockchain are More Efficient
Contrary to traditional business structures and services, blockchain provides a new platform that has several important characteristics that dramatically increase efficiency. On the surface, these characteristics seem awfully ‘techie’, such as distributed networks, hashing, immutability, smart contracts, algorithmic consensus, and so on. But the benefits for organizations and services that are built on top of these characteristics are numerous.
By their very nature blockchains provide an historical record set which is immutable, meaning that history cannot be rewritten. Understanding the mechanics behind this isn’t important, you just need to understand that every ‘block’ in a blockchain is built using some information from a previous block, thus making it impossible to change data with invalidating the entire data set.
This ensures that any type of transactions, whether that be supply chain logistics, or real estate titles, or prescription drugs, are captured in a provable and transparent way, increasing trust by the shear fact of removing the need to ‘trust’ other parties.
Distributed Decision Making
Blockchains are also distributed, and this is where consensus and smart contract mechanisms come into play. In contrast to traditional infrastructure which is highly centralized from a logic standpoint, blockchains distribute decision making to every participating node, where each node runs a small bit of code (the smart contract) and ensures its output agrees with the output from every other node in the blockchain.
Rogue actors will have a very difficult time trying to subvert decisions, as they would not be able to ‘hack’ just one node, they would need to control at least 51% of the network to force a consensus on the wrong data. Logistically this is highly difficult, thus protecting the process.
This results in a highly efficient decision making process that is both undertaken and understood by all parties involved (and by extension, you could argue, fair).
While the concept of ownership is still evolving with blockchain companies, generally speaking we are seeing a departure from the traditional tech startup model where organizations are funded by venture capital and institutional investments. Rather, blockchain companies are introducing cryptocurrencies or tokens that are structured as crowd sales and are available for the public to invest in, meaning the traditional cap table looks wildly different than a web 2.0 company, putting more power back into the people’s hands.
Additionally, we’re seeing new digital economy platforms like Kin that also aim to disrupt traditional funding / revenue models for the application economy by rewarding innovation and user engagement instead of relying on venture or advertising.
Takeaway: Blockchains remove intermediaries, increase trust, provide a more equal spread of value and enable transparency, providing a platform for dramatic increases in efficiency.
Artificial Intelligence is Automating Nearly Everything
There is an assumption that robots and artificial intelligence will eat more of the traditional blue collar jobs such as factory workers, but the reality is white collar jobs are in trouble too. The benefits of AI seemingly outweigh the risks (at least at this point), resulting in organizations and countries doubling down.
At it’s root, AI is software, and software runs really fast. We’ve been automating tasks with software for a long time, but as processing power has increased and capabilities such as machine learning have advanced, we’re now seeing a level of efficiency that we could only dream about years ago.
This kind of efficiency is hard to ignore from a business perspective, where driving ROI and increasing revenues each quarter is key.
Complex Problem Solving
Alongside the efficiency that fast software and advanced algorithms provide, they are solving problems in ways that humans are just not capable of. While we are amazing at some things that even the latest AI and robots struggle with (take walking for example), we are unable to quickly process vast amounts of data and derive new patterns or anomalies, which can lead to big discoveries or insights. AI dominates here, and will only improve over time.
Reduction in Human Responsibility
You may argue whether this one is good or bad, but it’s clearly evident that replacing workers with software reduces human responsibility (and error). We humans tend to make a lot of mistakes, and often we make those same mistakes over and over again, which is not something that AI software is burdened with. Being able to trust software to do a job, do it right most of the time, and know that it’s programmed to learn from its mistakes is a wonderful thing.
The burden of responsibility will shift in this scenario, and there’s much debate around liability and artificial intelligence, yet the race is still on to develop and deploy AI as fast as possible.
The net effect of Artificial Intelligence on business is that it is making things cheaper. One of the core areas we see this happening involves making predictions, where advanced AI is clearly starting to show significant value.
Reducing the cost (and, by the way, increasing accuracy) of predictions is just the tip of the iceberg, however predictions play a major role in the strategy and decision making of organizations round the world. If we can make better predictions, faster, and cheaper than using human capital, you know that it’s only a matter of time before all businesses are leveraging this capability.
Takeaway: AI is cheaper, faster, more efficient, more trustworthy and can deliver results that humans simply can’t.
Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence for a New Future
While we are not quite there yet, the age of automation will be at full throttle within the next 5 years. Blockchain is equally ramping up and we are seeing production-grade solutions hitting the market that do all the wonderful things we talked about earlier, showing it will catch it’s stride in the coming years as well. Though it remains to be seen if there will be a meaningful convergence between blockchain and artificial intelligence, these two technologies individually have the power to drastically disrupt traditional jobs.
Blockchain’s biggest impact on jobs is the drastic reduction in traditional intermediaries due to the underlying distributed nature of blockchain solutions. If we don’t need hundreds or thousands of workers in banks or governments or real estate (or pick your industry…it’s being disrupted), how long do you think those kinds of jobs will last?
Artificial Intelligence’s biggest impact on jobs is two-fold; simultaneously automating existing roles and solving complex problems that even large teams of humans couldn’t solve. If we can do with code what humans both can and can’t do, why would we keep humans around in traditional positions?
Historically technological advancement has created more jobs, and not less (take that whole luddite thing), however, in a society that is largely unhappy, working in jobs that aren’t fulfilling, are more jobs what we really need right now? No doubt we are going to need some incredibly bright and skilled folks to continue developing blockchain and AI solutions (at least until we automate those people), but perhaps we’ve reached a stage where it’s actually not necessary for everyone to work the way we traditionally have.
Amid the hushed onslaught of job loss could we be looking at the beginning of a dynamic shift from traditional jobs into a world where the majority of people are doing work they actually want to do, instead of what they have to do?
There’s a lot of angst in the world right now. Over jobs. Over government. Over income levels. Over happiness. And on the surface it might not seem evident that killing jobs could actually help improve things, but, in fact, it just might.
Final Food for Thought:
- What if the next wave of the gig economy is fulfilled by AI?
- What does the collision of Smart Contracts and AI look like?
- Does Blockchain and AI force the necessity of a Universal Basic Income?