Here are my notes from Daniel Susskind’s A World Without Work: Technology, Automation and How We Should Respond.
- Introduces John Maynard Keynes term “technological unemployment” (link points to the data of this happening in Australia in coming years) as in what the progress had done to horses would eventually do to human beings to drive us out of work….but will it? Technological unemployment is a symptom of the success that we have escaped poverty
Think of the Humans Need Not Apply video that was made back in 2014:
- Machines will not do everything in the future, but they will do more – as in take on more tasks and humans will be forced to retreat to an ever shrinking set of activities…or will they?
- Jobs haven’t completely vanished – there just won’t be enough of it to go around
- People realising that the few big companies are the political players
- Question of challenge of finding meaning in life: world with less work is a world with less purpose.
Big Questions For Me:
- What should and shouldn’t do about the nature of our obligations to our fellow humans? What does it mean to live a meaningful life?
- What’s the new story that economists now must say as our previous stories don’t reflect what will be our future?
- I used to say that if we want to know what’s in store for us ahead, look into the past. Can we say this now? Yeah, we probably can (not for technology) but human nature and behaviours haven’t changed that much.
Part 1: The Context
A History of Misplaced Anxiety | The Age of Labour | The Pragamatist Revolution | Underestimating Machines
- There is little evidence to support that technological progress would create large pools of permanently unemployed workers as they eventually find new work to do. In the past, these jobs then become the “profitless past times”.
- Luddites had legitimate grievances.
- Average number of hours worked over the years is decreasing.
- Technological changes not only affects the amount of work but the nature of that work (how well paying is it? How secure is it?)
- Machines should be seen as a complementing force not a substituting force. They automate some tasks but allow workers to be more productive and focus on value add work instead,.
- “The economy does find jobs for other workers. When wealth is created, people spend money on something”
- Middle class is disappearing – labour markets becoming two tiered and divided.
- A job consists of different routine and non-routine tasks; tacit and explicit knowledge,
- Non-routine tasks CAN be automated now (through patterns, rules, data) which now changes things
- Technological Purists want machines to be like human intelligence (to be able to explain it) however the Pragmatists (usually big companies R&D) not as ideological.
- Idea that once the machines have ‘general’ capabilities and are able to perform a wider range of tasks better than human cans, it’s only a matter of time before the task of designing yet more capable machines falls within reach. At this point an ‘intelligence explosion’ will take place where machines are endlessly improving upon what came before. Super-intelligence or ‘singularity’.
- It is not necessary to build a single machine in the image of a human being that can displace workers in an instant. Instead the gradual accumulation of a range of unhuman machines with narrow and impressive abilities is enough to erode the individual tasks that people carry out. So when thinking of the future of work, we should be wary of not one ‘omnipotent fox’ but an army of ‘industrious hedgehogs’).
- Am I a luddite? (I think I am because I’m constantly complaining about the technology and slightly fearful of it but at the same time, can’t live without it! So my only option is to keep myself constantly educated about it and ask questions, explore and consider what my actions are and how in my life, I can make it work for me – not against me.
- I’ve got a slightly dystopic and not idealistic view of technology because I believe that although we have the best intentions for it as a provider of social good, when big business comes into the middle of it, interests are not for the public social good but instead for profit of few individuals….again, I can’t control this happening (as they lock me into using the technology for work and life but I can control it by self-education and understanding intentions behind everything. Guess I’m becoming less idealistic and more cynical in my old age!
Part 2: The Threat
Task Encroachment | Frictional Technological Unemployment | Structural Technological Unemployment | Technology and Inequality
- Think about machine capabilities in terms of what we think they can do by creating lists and taxonomies because one thing we will be sure of is that they’ll be able to do a lot more than we can. That is, labelling tasks according to how humans doe them encourages us to mistakenly think that machines could only do these tasks the same way.
- We have had a steady decline in economic growth with fewer innovative bursts that drove our economies forward as they have in the past
- It will also not be evenly spaced out because different economies are made up of different types of jobs and tasks some of which are harder or easier to automate
- Thinking about whether or not it is efficient to use a machine to automate a task, matters not only how productive it is relative to the human but how expensive it is to the human alternative
- Countries ageing faster tend to invest in automation
- Substituting force is gathering strength which will displace workers resulting in a mismatch of SKILLS, IDENTITY and PLACE.
- Have we reached a plateau of workers skills? Literacy and numeracy not enough to keep up because higher qualifications are needed
- People reject going into lower paid and low skilled jobs opting for unemployment; nor moving out of their community to find work
- More people abandoning work – which means lower wages, lower quality of work – ‘proletariat’ work is poor, stressful and low paying
- Unknown timing as to when this will happen but it could be in decades and frictional technological unemployment is already emerging
- Human capital – the capital you put in your own knowledge, skills and capabilities will erode because no one wants to pay for them; inequality will result between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. The haves would be those who are rich in traditional capital
- Increase in inequality.
Big Questions for Me:
- Have we really reached the plateau of workers skills? I think we are heading towards this as I watch how people have changed their work behaviours and how they’re collaborating and co-ordinating in the workplace now. Blog post to follow as I ponder this….
- Have my own skills started to erode because at times I simply feel that I cannot keep up with it all?
Look at this example:
Part 3: The Response
Education and Its Limits | The Big State | Big Tech | Meaning and Purpose
- Will more education really help? It may be more ineffective as time moves on.
- What are we actually teaching to people? Teach skills that will make them good at what machines are bad at?? That is, teach them skills that complement the machines? Stop doing ‘routine’ work
- People will have to be comfortable moving in and out of education through their lives and defining new purpose beyond work
- Retraining is difficult because for some people it may simply be out of reach, or lack of time to skill up, and as machines become more capable, the effort and time it takes for you to learn something new is too great versus a machine doing it
- Concept of a Big State to focus on ‘distribution’ and not ‘production’ like in the past.
- Taxing differently (taxing those who work; those who have traditional capital; taxing robots? taxing big business (and closing off the loopholes for their tax avoidance schemes); sharing income eg UBI but with conditions (for citizens only – what defines being a citizen? who makes these conditions?); membership to the community conditions; what happens if the membership committee starts to choose people over others (inequality)
- Idea of work as being for community (as opposed to deriving economic value) – ‘communal’
- Idea of the ‘capital sharing’ state; ‘labour supporting state’
- Big Tech (eg Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Facebook) and the danger of them going beyond economic powers to denying us the political power
- The need to have people who come from all backgrounds (not just economists) be the people who are best equipped to handle the challenge ahead so that we can become citizens of society not just consumers in a marketplace
- How do we derive new meaning away from work?
- Different people derive different meaning to work (it’s a point of contention) “If you didn’t have to work, what would you do?”
- It used to be ‘religion’ but now it’s work that derives meaning for us – like a drug – but it demotivates us to derive meaning from other things so we can’t imagine our lives without it (it’s obviously not talking about me then – I’m looking forward to a full life of leisure…). – maybe some ‘leisure policies’ are needed (like we had labour policies)
- Skills we need are those like in Ancient Greece (!!! – I’ve been hearing this all my life) community service, curiosity, creativity, intellectual virtues, diligence, perseverance….
- Leisure is seen as a superfluity today than a priority
- We would need to find new “non-economic” identities; the Big State will need to be a Meaning-Defining State
- “The problem is not simply how to live but how to live well”
- “The age of security is coming to an end” we will build a new one where it doesn’t rely on paid work
Big Questions for Me:
- How am I including more work from diverse backgrounds, cultures, ages into my own network for work? How can I ‘boost’ my work by basically obliterating traditional thinking based on what other people like me (and who I hang out with) work and think like?
- I’ve never felt guilty about leisure pursuits and in fact, everything in my life is more centred around this than work. Work for me was a hope that I could use it as curious exploration of various adventures I could learn from but then they go about putting a Performance Review or Job Description in front of you and I think, “oh crap!” That was my entire corporate experience. (So an additional question is: “why bother having specific job descriptions anymore?”)
- Get used to insecurity – in everything.
One thing to leave you with….and put the heebeejeebees into you.
Further Reading and Reviews:
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