2017 is the year nearly everyone – from policy makers to academics, business leaders to the working class – woke up to the inescapable impact of automation and artificial intelligence on our most fundamental economic assumptions. But while debate rages on whether and how jobs will be lost, we must not lose sight of a wider aperture for “the Future of Work.” Yes, tens of millions of drivers, cashiers, warehouse workers, and even white collar knowledge workers’ jobs are on a collision course with capitalism’s never-ending quest for efficiency and profit maximization. But within that statement are any number of important policy and even ethical questions: Do we want to leave the transition to a post-AI world to the free market? Our last major transition – to an Industrial workforce – left millions destitute. Do we want to run the same play again?
To truly explore the future of work, we’ll need to explore the future of the corporation as well. Companies are already deep in transition, with new approaches to workforce and product management taking root. Employees, customers and partners are demanding more from the firm, from a values and purpose-driven approach to business to a more flexible and technology-mediated approach to getting work done. And the younger the workforce, the more employees will job hop, with the average millennial shifting jobs every two and one half years.
Once dismissed as a utopian (or worse, socialist) concept, universal basic income has made a comeback as the Valley’s preferred answer – Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, and scores of tech leaders have embraced the idea. Others, like Nick Hannauer (speaker), have embraced a $15 minimum wage. Aetna, the massive health insurance provider, has already implemented such a wage (the company’s President, Karen Lynch, will speak as well).
Key Issues & Questions
- There are big changes percolating – relationship of individual to corporation, the relationship of corporation to community, and the “way” we will work (remote, flexible, purpose-driven, less hierarchical, with the understanding that the people will have several jobs or careers in their lifetime).
- Automation & Globalization are driving the disappearance of a middle class – it’s not just unskilled hourly labor. The resulting poverty, malaise from lack of purpose, disenchantment with “The American Dream” are a key driver in today’s political climate, as globalization is often misunderstood (or willfully misconstrued for political gain) – tied to immigration, climate change regulation and healthcare.
- If corporations remain purely margin driven does that mean that all jobs that can be automated will, that wages will shrink or stagnate, and that this is the natural course of progress?
- With income inequality higher than the Gilded Age and massive tax breaks on the horizon for holders of capital, can our society afford “business as usual”?
- Will new jobs emerge to replace those that seem certain to evaporate, and if so, how can we shift our education system to anticipate the new skills a post industrial society demands?
- Might jobs that highlight unique, human-centric connections (teaching, food preparation, nursing) start to accrue more social and economic value?