Its time we prepared for the possibility of a jobless future
Who actually likes working? If money wasn’t an issue, would you still choose to show up to work tomorrow?
As the co-founder of Transhumanism AU, I often give talks on the future of work to corporates and creatives. My most recent talk, which this article covers, focused on developments that are accelerating us towards total job automation.
Meet Zou Rui. He’s all alone in a Chinese warehouse with only robots for company. Zou works in a warehouse that is fully automated.
The warehouse in which he works is the size of seven football fields, and hundreds of robots pack and ship 200,000 boxes each day. Four humans babysit and Zou is one of them.
This warehouse is owned by Chinese e-commerce giant JD.com, which plans to roll out robotic automation to their other warehouses.
This is telling as once you have the technology, processes and learnings in place, you can easily roll out automation to other locations and other functions, so that eventually your entire business could be automated.
China is one of the fastest growing adopters of automation. This is because of incentives offered to Chinese companies to buy more robots. In 2016 alone, China installed a record number of 87,000 robots, which is more than the US and Germany combined.
This is Spread, a hydroponic vertical lettuce farm. But its no ordinary hydroponic farm, they’ve taken hydroponics to the next level by creating a farm that is run entirely by robots. These robots plant the seeds, water the plants and trim the lettuce. Spread is based in Kyoto, Japan and the indoor farm harvests 30,000 heads of lettuce each day.
Robots from the previous decade were usually only good for single tasks and single purposes. Now robots are increasingly becoming multipurpose and can perform all tasks in an end to end process.
Spread is an example of robotics that is nearly close to performing an end to end farming process, which could eventually eliminate humans entirely in farming.
McKinsey claims that up to 800 million jobs will be lost world wide by 2030.
In the banking industry, many are already slashing jobs. In Australia, ANZ has already cut 5000 jobs, while NAB has announced they will cut 6000 jobs over the next 3 years. Citigroup have also announced they are letting go 13,000 people, mostly in America.
Even those in the tech industry aren’t safe, HP is cutting 5000 jobs, Microsoft has announced it is laying off 10,000 people, and IBM has cut close to 20,000 people over the last couple of years.
Companies are laying off thousands mainly in admin, back office and middle management roles. These roles are being digitised, whether by employing technical people to take their place, or by automating entire roles.
Its not just individual companies slashing their workforce, large job cuts are happening in entire industries. Because of this, there may not be enough jobs available to absorb the unemployed.
In the face of impending mass unemployment, people have proposed a few solutions.
One of those solutions is tokenisation of assets. Tokenisation is converting a right to real world assets into a token that sits on a blockchain.
If you were to sell your car for $100,000, maybe you won’t attract many buyers as not many people can afford that. However, if you were to split your car into 10 tokens and sell each of the tokens for $10,000, maybe you’ll attract a larger number of buyers and increase the likelihood you’ll get the price you want. These transactions can all be done via the blockchain with no middle man involved.
In medieval Europe, many peasants were craftspeople and worked for themselves, in the future we may return to a model that is very similar. Any writing or artwork you produce could be fractionalised and sold as tokens.
The picture below is of Casey Pearl, an independent blockchain artist based in New York. Casey is offering fractionalised ownership of herself as an artist, so tokenisation of real world assets is already happening. Stablecoins are driving some of the adoption of tokenisation.
Another solution proposed is universal basic income (UBI), which is where all citizens get a basic payment, regardless of their income or assets, that is just enough to cover basic needs such as food and shelter.
A number of countries have trialled or are trialling UBI. Finland just completed their two year trial of UBI but has not released results yet. Cities in Scotland are now planning to run their own including Glasgow and Edinburgh. Y Combinator, one of the world’s most well known startup accelerators, is funding a 5 year UBI experiment in Oakland in the US. India’s chief economic adviser has suggested that the country could trial UBI in one or two states within the next two years.
The two proposed solutions above may help solve access to basic necessities but we also need to look after people’s mental health. With a loss of job, people may also feel a loss of purpose.
To solve this, prominent people such as bestselling author Yuval Noah Harari and even Mark Zuckerberg have proposed we need to reclassify what a job is and create communities around these jobs. This could include mentoring younger people, caring for our elderly, or cleaning up the environment. Creating communities centred around an activity may give people the sense of purpose they crave.
I am keen to hear your thoughts on the future of work.