How the end of jobs could liberate future generations

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This article was co-authored by Rohit Talwar and Alexandra Whittington from Fast Future Publishing.

Much of the current debate on automation focuses on the demise of existing jobs across great swathes of economic activity. The traditional loss of jobs to automation in manufacturing looks set to accelerate, and the incursion of automation into the service and white collar sectors is gathering momentum.

Assuming technological unemployment impacts 80-90% of jobs – the most severe forecast – 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.

A global ‘mincome’

In 20 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 digitised out of work. In this scenario, employment would become a rare and specialised activity, creating huge groups of people with no job, no prospects and no income.  

Governments would be forced to implement programmes to relieve the economic and societal pressures that could arise. They would need to look at how people could buy food, pay rent, obtain education and 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 programmes, 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.  

Though AI will absorb the brunt of the informational and computational work, human insight will be vital when it comes to complex human and social problems.

Today’s social safety nets are designed to protect the lowest-earning and non-earning members of the community, mostly on a temporary basis; the nature of unemployment benefits, rehabilitation and job training programmes paid for with public funds is that they are intended to put people back to work.  

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 maximising human potential.

Education for the post-jobs world

Though future of work predictions are foreboding, they are not death sentences. As far as mainstream analyses of work automation go, we already see losses in routine white-collar office functions, but gains in computing, mathematical, architecture and engineering-related roles.

However, social skills – such as persuasion, caregiving, emotional intelligence and teaching – will be in higher demand than narrow technical skills.  

The evidence bears out the claim that teachers will be in high demand. UNESCO has announced that almost 70 million teachers must be recruited to achieve the goal of universal primary and secondary education by 2030.

While AI might perform the logistical and technical aspects of teaching, and especially grading and assessing, there is no adequate concept yet for automating the one-on-one support in the classroom.

Future generations could experience education that preserves humanity, not eliminates it.

Rather than panic at the thought of law firms replacing attorneys with ‘robolawyers’, we might see instead an opportunity to increase the number of smart people working with children.

Automation could make teaching a more attractive and lucrative profession, and drive innovation in schools by enhancing human skills in the classroom.

More generally, are education systems ready to respond to the shifting nature of work and the disappearance of jobs? What is the justification for compulsory schooling, for example, in a future where jobs don’t exist? School will have to change to adapt to new realities, which could include lawyers teaching civics, social workers taking kids on field trips into at-risk communities, and scientists escorting children to conduct experiments on local waste sites.

Though AI will absorb the brunt of the informational and computational work, human insight will be vital when it comes to complex human and social problems, including the environment.

AI will take jobs, but can also help ensure that education systems promote human creativity and provide insights that can be used for developing solutions that overcome some of the world’s most demanding problems.

The ultimate win-win?

For several generations now, formal schooling has occupied the most developmental years of a person’s life under the premise of being prepared for future employment. Yet, technology trends suggest that the jobs we prepare our children for today won’t be there in 10 or 20 years.

Ironically, employment trends seem to point to the need for highly human capacities in the coming decades, suggesting that communications, caring, teaching, conflict resolution, and problem-solving are core skills needed to design modern education systems.  

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.”  

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.

Rather than spend eight hours a day in classrooms, in preparation for spending eight hours a day on a job, children could go outdoors, explore their communities, travel short and long distances 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.

In particular, our biggest gifts to future generations would be to redirect 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.

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.

The very same exponential technologies that could replace humans will also enable the creation of new businesses. They provide scope for creating innovative business models to bring products and services to market for a customer base who will be working in jobs that do not exist yet.

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 Rohit Talwar

About Rohit Talwar

Rohit Talwar is the CEO of 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. 

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