India Future Society

What Work Will We Do After Mass-Automation & Advance Robotics Reach Realisation

by Harish Shah

Technological UnemploymentOver the past few years in both Future Studies and Labour Studies circles, there has been much rhetoric going around about digitisation or technological automation causing unemployment and rendering human workers redundant. It is neither a secret nor a cause for surprise, that as we increase our technological knowledge and prowess, we will collectively as a human society automate processes rendering obsolete the need for human labour.

In fact, this is not the first time that I am visiting this subject. For an idea of discussions on the subject of human labour in the future on the horizon, you perhaps may wish to visit the following articles I have written over the past two years:

The Advent of Automated Commerce: Real Implications on the Horizon

Work Spaces of the Future

2050: The decline of the blue collar worker

The likely educational demography of the world in 2050

As far as job requirements or situations changing across sectors due to digitisation is concerned, changes have always occurred in work processes or in relevance of products throughout human history, wherein humanity has continued on through adaptation, by switching roles as, when and where necessary.

Digitisation, automation or robotics, while automating human job functions out of existence, also lower the bar to creativity, innovation and new enterprise by granting access in forms such as reducing cost of entry. What digitisation also does, is creates new needs and therefore new opportunities to create revenue streams by serving those needs. It is a circular process.

It is also impractical to believe that all jobs performed by humans will be taken over. I will have very serious Technological Unemployment Keywordsconcerns about the job of a lawyer being completely automated. I do not believe we can have machines do what Stephen Hawking does. I do not believe the jobs of Politicians should be automated. Try replacing a Marine Biologist with a robot for example. Even if you do, what purpose would one expect to see remain in the role, if we absolve ourselves of needing to learn, explore and understand whatever it is that is entailed in the work of a Marine Biologist?

What we can definitely be certain about, is that if not all, at least almost all Blue Collar jobs, meaning those that are non-intellectual, which I have mentioned in my past articles, will be automated out of existence, with a fair number of White Collar jobs automated away as well, with the help of SMART and efficient software or programming on top of the progress in the hardware spectrum. Even as jobs people work in today are automated out of existence, through evolution or emergence of new technologies, products, concepts or services, we collectively will create new types of jobs, roles and functions, but predominantly those that are increasingly intellectual in nature rather than laborious.

The solution is not to resist technological revolution to automate present tasks. The solution is, to prepare for humanity’s next tasks. There will be work to do and we’ll all collectively need to do that work. And for that, collectively, we will have to be competent. To be precise, we will have to be intellectually competent collectively. In short, work for us will not disappear. It will simply change and this is something I have discussed previously in the following articles:

The likely key industries in the year 2050

The Top 10 Occupations in 2050

The problem faced today however, when we look at the impending unprecedented level of transformation on the horizon, is the lack of social and economic mobility due to faults in our collective mindset towards the system of education, the role of education and the use of education.

What needs to be done, to see humanity or society through this stage or phase of change or rather, evolution in the human story, is to supplant entirely what our view of education is, how it is governed, how it is regulated, how it is managed and how it is delivered. What needs to be done to ensure social mobility, justice and equality, through this phase of change and onwards is as follows:

1. Education should be guaranteed as free for all persons, at every level from kindergarten to Doctorate level, at any and every university, to ensure no human being is disadvantaged in any way by social or economic circumstance. Education should be free, with regards not just to fees, but also any and all material costs. The fact that education is treated like a revenue generating business in much of the present day world, posses major problems for the future, including the threat of destructive social divides.

2. Education should be borderless, where any individual from anywhere in the world may study anywhere, freely, at free cost, to ensure he or she gets the education he or she needs or best suits his or her learning needs, so that the individual may be empowered to the optimum potential. With advancement in technologies enabling as well as enhancing telepresence, learning across borders would be more practical, without need for relocation or visa processes.

3. Education should not be standard but rather, needs based, customised for individuals, to cater to the needs and interests of each student through the various stages of life from the earliest stage. Progressively, the strengths of each student should be identified, allowing opportunities to the student to develop on those strengths. This on the principle that no one is incompetent, nor is anyone less competent than another, but all of us have different traits, aptitudes, paces of learning, strengths, intelligences, needs and competencies. In other words, every child born, save for mental incapacity, should have the opportunity guaranteed at birth, to earn a PhD, contingent on independent choice alone.

A level playing field provided through education as such, guarantees the disappearance of all social divides, eventually. It also readies humanity for its universally impending labour and economic needs. I first aired this proposition through the following article on the India Future Society’s website; The Future as a Case for Global Transformation of Education

And yes, I do mean, that anyone born with a working, functioning mind, should be guaranteed an opportunity at birth to earn a PhD as we know it, should he or she wish to persist in the formal education cycle to that extent, without a concern for cost or economic expense, vested societal interests or measure of competency against set standards that fragment or filter without consideration at present, recognising that all persons differ in competency.

For example, a student who is very good at language but poor in mathematics may never make it past secondary education in many countries, whereas if measured differently, and given the opportunity fitting his or her learning needs and strengths, that student could go on to be a great linguist or a language Professor.
Therefore in a conclusion that cannot be short, what is the answer to the question, what work will we do after mass-automation & advance robotics reach realisation? The answer is elaborate but simple.

With the current state of technology known to humanity, we work within or as parts of systems predominantly. Human society itself is a huge pyramid, where most sit at the bottom, while very few sit at the top. The further down one is in the levels of the pyramid, the greater is his or her likeness to a cogwheel inside a complex machine, with lesser independent control.

With the future state of technology that humanity is now anticipating, most of us will work increasing outside and on systems rather than inside them or as parts of them. Humans in general will have greater autonomy and control when it comes to “work”. It will be less hands, legs, blood and sweat, but more intellectual prowess, that will be employed for contribution. The role difference in other words will be that predominantly, human workers will be managing systems rather than being managed within systems. Human society will be a rather short or flat looking pyramid and that too inverted, with the vast majority at the top and very few at the bottom. It will have to be that way.

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