The future of work is over, and it's not good news
As artificial intelligence increases, large numbers of us are set to find ourselves out of work. Photo / 123RF
Source: Emma Reynolds
As we start the year full of good intentions to flourish at work, social scientists are warning our careers could be over sooner than we expect.
The world is barrelling towards what has been dubbed the "post-work economy", as technology replaces humans at an unprecedented rate.
Driverless cars are set to make millions of truckies and taxi drivers redundant and automated fast food service is poised to shut off a key job sector for young people.
As artificial intelligence is increasingly able to carry out complex tasks that used to require humans, large numbers of us are set to find ourselves out of work, with no prospects. "Many jobs will be destroyed," futurist Ross Dawson told news.com.au.
"We can no longer be sure we'll have a sufficient amount of the right type of work for people to be employed."
WHEN SHOULD WE START PANICKING?
The experts aren't sure how soon all this is going to happen, but the shift is taking place faster than predicted.
The world of work is now changing more rapidly than during the Industrial Revolution.
Dawson says we can expect more "big hits" in the near future, like the one seen in October when 600 manufacturing workers lost their jobs after Ford closed its Australian factories.
Futurist Chris Riddell told news.com.au that over the next three years, "innovation and disruption will exceed anything we've seen to date."
With high-speed "hyperloop" transport and augmented reality gaining traction, the pace of change is accelerating, but Riddell believes "things are going to get very messy before they get sophisticated."
HOW WILL WE SURVIVE?
Governments are already in discussions over how we can stay relevant in a world where tech has overtaken the human brain.
The shift towards a huge portion of the population being unemployed will throw up a string of problems.
Elon Musk has warned that humans need to stay in control of artificial intelligence. Photo / AP
In terms of finances, we may have to introduce a Universal Basic Income (UBI): a trendy concept being trialled in Finland, the Netherlands and Canada, in which every citizen is paid a flat wage, whether they are employed or not.
The idea of a "mincome" (minimum income) is controversial because it is unclear whether it would be more cost-effective than our current welfare system. But if the majority of the population is on the dole, our view on taxing workers to fund the unemployed may have to change.
WILL LIFE BE ONE LONG PARTY?
You may be thinking this all sounds great. Our lives will run smoothly with the help of super-intelligent technology, we won't be expected to find jobs, and we'll still earn money.
Technology should remove mundane tasks and allow us to focus on the kind of lifestyles we want. But Dawson warns the shift could open up a wider chasm between the elite who work, and those who do not, since we typically define our worth by what we do.
"This will accelerate the potential for a divide," he says. "And the polarisation of wealth."
Since we all want to feel valued, we will need to find a way to give people a purpose outside of work, in other aspects of society.
WHERE WILL WE FIND PURPOSE?
Some of the greatest minds of the 21st Century, Tesla founder Elon Musk and physicist Stephen Hawking, recently wrote an open letter warning of the need to stay abreast of artificial intelligence for fear robots could literally take over our world.
We can no longer be sure we'll have a sufficient amount of the right type of work for people to be employed.
Ross Dawson, futurist
In the short term, we need to find roles in which humans can feel productive.
This requires looking at where we still outstrip machines: in expertise, creativity and relationships, for example.
One of Australia's most potent offerings is world-class eduction, according to Dawson.
We have the ability to take a leading role in making sure schools are preparing for the radically different world of the future, and exporting adult education to the world.
As computers become more sophisticated, our abilities at things like mental arithmetic and handwriting are eroding, so it will be vital for us to exercise our motor skills and stay physically and mentally engaged.
Riddell predicts "multi-income sources" for the next generation, who are likely to have several different jobs, mostly situated in the on-demand economy, that fit in with their lifestyle.
It's a time of deep change, and we will need to integrate with technology to create the lives we want, before we are edged off the information superhighway.