Articles | May 11, 2018
“The Future of Work”, and How Technology Affects Our Work
On 21 March 2018, a conference called The future of Work: 2018 Conference on Business, Technology and Human Rights took place at Berkeley University (the Hass School of Business). I had the opportunity to participate in this event and discuss the direction in which modern technologies are moving to, on the one hand, support people in everyday life, but also greatly influence changes on the labor market.
Before the first industrial revolution, local transport in New York was served by over 100,000 horses, which meant thousands of jobs for blacksmiths and grooms. Almost 30 percent of agricultural production in the USA at that time was intended for feeding horses. The advent of cars changed the situation drastically: the labor market became mechanized, and horses and those involved in the provision of such services lost their jobs basically overnight.
Revolution requires sacrifice
Nowadays, we are experiencing a similar change, although many of us still do not realize it. The fourth industrial revolution, robotics and IoT devices have significantly changed the world in which we live, work and run businesses. For example, it is estimated that by 2030, 80 percent of global transport will operate in Transport as a Service mode, and the number of individual car users in the US alone will fall from 250 million to less than 20 million. This means not only a huge change in the way we travel, but above all a bloody revolution for the entire automotive industry and companies operating within its supply chain.
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In the United States there is an ongoing discussion on how to deal with the potential problem of people who will lose their jobs as a result of these changes and the technological revolution. Conservative estimates are that more than 300 million people will need additional training in order not to find themselves locked out of a labor market dominated by robots and automation. On the other hand, more than 10 million jobs will be created by 2030 in Germany alone, although what kinds of job has not yet been defined. We know only that they will be closely related to robotics, automation, IoT, artificial intelligence and the management of data sets, but in reality they do not exist today, so it is very difficult to prepare for them from a professional standpoint.
This raises the question of how and what should we be teaching in primary and secondary schools today? How to prepare today’s teenagers for a labor market which in a dozen years’ time will be dominated by petabytes of data and robots? Which competences to invest in and how to reallocate people threatened with the loss of their current job? What should we do as business leaders to influence the digital society, and how to shape it in order to fully benefit from the development of civilization? And finally, how to write and change the law to adapt it to the rapidly changing social, economic and technological circumstances? There are a lot of questions, and the future seems very unpredictable.
There is no doubt that change is taking place now. Therefore, we should decide how to translate these questions into specific political and social activities as soon as possible. Decisions should be made on whether a universal basic income will be better, or investments should be made in order to properly educate or help people adjust to the new technological opportunities, so that they do not lose their jobs but rather gain new knowledge needed in the world of automation. A major role in this change is played not only by the public sphere, but also by corporations such as Google, Facebook or Microsoft, which should undertake activities to properly educate society and aim for sensible investments in startups and new technologies.
The conference at the University of Berkeley definitely showed that we still have a lot of work ahead of us in terms of facing the social challenges associated with the next technological breakthrough. However, we should be optimistic and draw on the history of such changes and the three industrial revolutions to date: while new technologies have always changed the labor market, they have certainly raised the level of affluence and have given us more leisure time. Let us hope that we will be able to achieve this once again, and we will be able to use the effects in order to ensure the sustainable development of all societies.