Monday, 12 September 2011

Jobs in the Future

Aleksander Iljaszewicz shared an interesting article with me today, in which the author pondered on how our idea of working for a living may change in the future.  Douglas Rushkoff wrote:-

"The question we have to begin to ask ourselves is not how do we employ all the people who are rendered obsolete by technology, but how can we organize a society around something other than employment? Might the spirit of enterprise we currently associate with "career" be shifted to something entirely more collaborative, purposeful, and even meaningful?"

Source: http://edition.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/09/07/rushkoff.jobs.obsolete/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

How many of us would turn up for work each day if we didn't get paid, hmm?  Equally, don't most working people resent those who make a career out of living off state benefits which our taxes pay for?  And yet there are those who insist that if all unemployed people found jobs then this would immediately create more unemployment, as an army of civil servants and other people whose businesses are founded on meeting the various needs of the unemployed found themselves, in turn, out of a job. 

The idea that technology will eventually - and probably sooner rather than later - make most jobs obsolete is not new.  I can recall this subject being raised in my high school's computer studies class, wherein the valiant Mr Kennedy did his utmost to explain the massive potential of the first tentative expansion of the internet.  To give some indication of how long ago this was, let me add that our school owned only one computer - and that was a weird contraption which only accessed a real computer via a telephone hook-up.  7" floppy discs were just starting to make the mountains of oblong punch cards obsolete.  You'll only see such items in technology museums now. 

Following a class discussion about the role of jobs in a mostly automated world, we had to write an essay describing our personal vision of the future.   I trotted out some Utopian ideal where we all did whatever we wanted, free to pursue our interests in whichever way felt fulfilling to each individual.  That still sounds like a good idea to me.  The only tricky bit is how to implement it.

The scenario of people being employed in totally pointless jobs, just to keep the economy ticking over, reminds me of Keith Waterhouse's novel, Office LifeSuch prospects feel dismally self-defeating.  A more creative and liberating plan would be to change the way in which our current economy operates.  We need a new social model.  But bright theories often fail in practice because they often don't recognise an honest view of human nature, which tends to be rather less lofty than we'd like to wax poetic about.

Intelligent machines are supposed to make our future lives ever easier - but we've all seen what happened in The Terminator (Special Edition)...   Intelligence divorced from genuine human empathy could potentially result in disaster.  But social change has always inspired a flurry of doom-laden imaginings which never came to pass.  Who now remembers the mythical Millennium Bug?  Is anyone still looking for weapons of mass destruction or waiting for Rapture?  People have been proclaiming that the end of the world is nigh since, oow, Pliny the Elder's time, at least.  And those of us who're blessed with enough foresight to arrange cryonic preservation have the real possibility of being around for a long time yet; an infinite time, perhaps.  Maybe periodic proclamations of gloom is something we'll just have to get used to.

So, how do you anticipate the role of work in the future?  If few people, or no people, need to work, how will wealth be distributed?  And if most people don't need to work, who'll opt to be one of the few who do carry-out necessary jobs when they'd sooner be fishing, knitting, sunbathing - or writing a blog, even?

Related reading:- http://adelecosgrovebray.hubpages.com/hub/Money-in-the-Future

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