By Rohit Talwar and Alexandra Whittington of Fast Future.
With the fast-paced development of artificial intelligence (AI) and other smart technologies, it is inevitable that an array of jobs currently done by people will be automated. Looking back over history this is a familiar situation. In the past human ingenuity and a business drive by entrepreneurs to create new products and services has increased the scope for employment and personal fulfillment. But this might not continue.
The most severe forecasts assume that technological unemployment might impact 80-90% of jobs. Even with entrepreneurs creating new hi-tech businesses forecasters predict that only a small number of people will be employed in these new enterprises. How will business adapt to this shift? How would the majority of people survive without some form of income? And what would they do with their time (and the rest of their lives) if not employed? These questions require a societal response to the problems posed.
Solutions can be found if we can wean ourselves off the notion of having a job as the ultimate goal and responsibility of every individual of working age. Such a mindset and cultural transition is not without challenges. Current and critical social structures such as education, training, the welfare state and the benefits system are clearly not fit for purpose in the jobless future. However, for future generations, this may actually be a blessing in disguise.
In twenty years, automation may have created a society where jobs aren’t available or are not being created at the scale necessary to employ the large numbers of people digitized out of work. Employment would become a rare and specialized activity, creating huge groups of people with no job, no prospects and no income. Governments would be forced to implement programs to relieve the economic and societal pressures that could arise: how would people buy food, pay rent, obtain education? Even more so, how would they buy the products and services companies sell?
One of the more humane solutions proposes aggressive public policy to underpin a post-job society with basic income programs, known as Universal Basic Income (UBI) or “Mincome” (“minimum income”) and Universal Basic Services (transport, electricity, education, sanitation, healthcare).
If AI and other forms of smart technology do take over many work functions, the social safety net would need to expand beyond filling temporary gaps to actually forming the basis of the provision of essential needs for most people.
Establishing mincome for all could empower the majority and protect society from collapse due to economic imbalance. In fact, rather than provide bare subsistence, a mincome might offer the support needed to foster human creativity, problem solving and innovation. Making sure all the basic needs are met across society would be a necessity in the absence of paying jobs. This could also provide a huge benefit to society in terms of maximizing human potential.
Mainstream analyses of work automation show that we are already seeing losses in routine white-collar office functions, but gains in computing, mathematical, architecture, and engineering related roles. Social skills — such as persuasion, caregiving, emotional intelligence and teaching—will be in higher demand than narrow technical skills.
Teachers will be in high demand. Recently UNESCO has announced that almost 70 million teachers must be recruited to achieve the goal of universal primary and secondary education by 2030.[i] While AI might perform the logistical and technical aspects of teaching, there is no adequate concept yet for automating the one-on-one support in the classroom. Automation could make teaching a more attractive and lucrative profession, and drive innovation in schools by enhancing human skills in the classroom.
Unlimited potential for humanity
Without clear-cut jobs to prepare for, future generations, enabled with some form of mincome, would then be in a position where experiential and self-guided learning could be more embedded in everyday life and become the new definition of “making a living.” Rather than spend eight hours a day in classrooms, in preparation for eight hours a day full time employment, children could go outdoors, explore their communities, travel and learn about things they enjoy. Future generations could experience education that preserves humanity, not eliminates it.
There is unlimited potential for humanity in a world where work is mostly performed by machines and algorithms. One of the most positive responses to automation would be to eliminate social and economic inequality. For example, redirecting resources to ensure all people have what they need to survive, and providing opportunities so that the majority, not the lucky few, get to seek personal fulfilment. As a society and as leaders in business we have a choice in front of us today; use the technology at hand to create massive unemployment and economic inequality or as an enabler of abundance and human potential.
Preparing future generations for jobs that do not yet exist, or the absence of work altogether, is one of the main challenges of the future. It is also one of the biggest opportunities.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Rohit Talwar and Alexandra Whittington are from Fast Future which publishes books from future thinkers around the world exploring how developments such as AI, robotics and disruptive thinking, could impact individuals, society and business and create new trillion-dollar sectors. Fast Future has a particular focus on ensuring these advances are harnessed to unleash individual potential and ensure a very human future. See: www.fastfuture.com