We’d Better Be Ready To Rethink The Meaning Of Work, Because Things Are Changing Fast

November 18, 2019

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One of the topics I explore in my new book, “Viviendo en el futuro” (“Living in the future”, hopefully soon to be published in English) is the rapidly changing nature of work: within a few years so many jobs we have become used to over the last century will disappear as we automate more and more tasks.

Take supermarket cashiers: soon, they will soon join the ranks of workers no longer needed on assembly lines such as the one above from a 1913 Ford plant, the prototype of dehumanizing and alienating work requiring a person to repeat the same operation hour after hour. Most such manufacturing processes have now been replaced by robots, even in countries like China — once a paradigm of low unit labor costs — for a very simple reason: higher productivity and fewer errors.

Automation has not always been linear or straightforward and has frequently encountered problems, but once we began down this path, there was no turning back: the process may have begun with low-skilled tasks, but anything that falls into the category of dull, dirty, dangerous and dear, along with a growing number of other jobs, are being replaced with machines. Protecting jobs at all costs so keep unemployment down may sound attractive to many politicians, but makes no sense, and simply results in so-called bullshit jobs. As automation spreads, the new jobs being created are no longer an indicator of well-being: we are moving toward societies where fewer people will be needed to provide the products and services we need. The number of people in employment is no longer the correct metric by which to measure an economy. This is a problem that must be solved.

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