For the last few months, I have found myself in the world of work, project, automation, IT, AI, Citizen Development and technology. I think the effects of technology on the world of work are going to be profound. Hence “A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and How We Should Respond”.
Where is automation taking us
I already read “The Glass Cage: Where Automation is Taking Us“. In short, it is dumping us down, and if we don’t watch it, we will lose our soul to machines (and the companies that own those machines).
The question I asked after reading that book was whether citizen development is giving back control to the individual and allows individuals to express themselves or will it dumb down the users and will citizen development become an efficiency tool?
Abstraction of all technologies
I have come to the conclusion that Citizen Development might become the saving grace we need. Through enablement, it will give people full control back of their job, will help them to achieve mastery. Particularly when the abstraction of other technologies such as genetics, synthetic biology, robotics, 3D printing, material science, AI, etc. (there is a long list) will give people in work a full set of tools to express themselves way beyond of what we currently understand as work. Creativity and innovation will go rampant. Overlay it with Sunil Prashara’s gymnastic organisation, and you have a new paradigm.
Because that is the message of Daniel Susskind’s book. He starts with horses in NewYork, including the great manure crisis of the 1890s, which were then replaced by cars within a few decades. Horses had been around for centuries. We are the horses now. Technology is driving us out of work.
Hence the automation anxiety. In the United States, 30% of workers now believe their jobs are likely to be replaced by robots and computers in their lifetime. In the UK, the same proportion thinks it could happen in the next twenty years.
The author then follows different trains of thought:
- Many asks are likely to remain that are either hard to automate, unprofitable to automate, or possible and profitable to automate but which we will still prefer people to do. Some tasks other tasks lie beyond the reach of even the most capable machines.
- The fact that educated professionals tend to use their heads, rather than their hands, to perform their task does not matter. Far more important is whether the tasks are ‘routine’. Roles ‘that are repeatable’ are at particular risk of automation. Routine is going to be gone as a concept.
- Economists still think that history is a prediction of the future. The Luddites are always quoted and how there is always of a trend of job creation on the back of new technologies. This time it is different.
- Technology has always increased the economic pie. Using GDP as the metric. Read “Doughnut economics“. The pie needs to get smaller or more holistic. The pie simply can’t get any bigger if you take climate, sustainability, community into consideration. The only pie that is going to get bigger is restorative economics. The reverse pie.
- In the past, successive waves of technological progress have broadly benefited rather than harmed workers.
- As technological progress has accelerated, it has become clear that human intelligence is no longer the only route to machine capability. AlphaZero is a case in point. Read up on AI. If machines do not need to replicate human intelligence to be highly capable, there is no reason to think that what human beings are currently able to do represents a limit on what future machines might accomplish.
- McKinsey & Co. estimate that, as of 2015, 64% of worker hours in all areas of manufacturing were spent on tasks that could be automated with existing technologies – never mind future ones. Balfour Beatty, a major UK construction company, hopes that by 2050 its construction sites ‘will be human-free’.
- The education system is no longer preparing for the future of work. It is also not suitable to educate unemployed back into a new job. Consider entrepreneurship as an option.
- No comparable limit appears to exist in how productive machines could be in the future.
- Research shows that in 2010, new industries that were created in the twenty-first century accounted for just 0.5% of all US employment.
- The experience economy is too small to save us. You can’t build an economy on craft.
- It is not about economy stupid; it is about the meaning in life. Not until the 1800s were we driven by economics. Blame the industrial revolution. And it is framing our thinking about the future. That framing will have to change. We need to go back to the old Greeks, where leisure was the norm.
- For years the smart people thought that when there was more produced, there would be more income, and therefore there would be more demand. When wealth is created, people spend their money on something. That theory is not working anymore, either. COVID will be a proof point.
The authors’ ultimate conclusion is that it is the end of the road for work as we used to know. We are heading towards a world with less work for people to do.
The issue is not the jobs or automation. It is about income inequality. In 2017, the charity Oxfam asserted that the world’s eight richest men appeared to have as much wealth as the entire poorest half of the global population. The other is the rise of Big Tech, since, in the future, our lives are likely to become dominated by a small number of large technology companies. In the twentieth century, our main worry may have been the economic power of corporations: but in the twenty-first, that will be replaced by fears about their political power instead. For example, Apple and Microsoft account for 95 per cent of desktop operating systems. Read “The Four“.
Inequality and the end of work as we know it. That opens the door for a completely new look at taxation, welfare, and universal basic income. The author prefers a universal conditional income, or sovereign wealth funds, using Alaska and Norway as examples.
Ultimately it is all about meaning. According to the Office for National Statistics, the most popular leisure activity is consuming ‘mass media’. In Britain today, about 15 million people volunteer regularly. The economic value of this volunteering in the UK is £50 billion a year, making it as valuable as the energy industry.
Here is the question the author asks: If people no longer directly rely upon that work for an income, is it still right to call it ‘work’ or is it leisure? If you take GDP, leisure does not count. If you apply Buddhist economics, it does.
Beyond paradigm shift
I think that if you combine meaning, education, citizen development, restorative economics, gymnastics organisations and buddhist economics, you are going beyond paradigm shift. It could be something profound. We have an obligation to make that happen. That is why I am so proud of working with PMI on achieving just that. Visit https://www.pmi.org/citizen-developer.