We all have a morning routine. We grab our coffee, say goodbye to our partners, and strap ourselves into our car to commute down to our 9 to 5 job. This has been our routine for generations, and it’s hard to consider ever seeing this change. But rapid advances in technology may one day bring us into the world where work just isn’t something we do.
Automation is the process of developing technologies that can replace people in the workplace. Until now, there have been no problems with unemployment. Technology has simply been used to make products cheaper to the manufacturer, increasing our purchasing power as costs fall. This, in turn, raises demand for products and creates more jobs in other departments responsible for designing and marketing. Currently, technology is focusing on replacing jobs that are boring, repetitive or dangerous. The goal has always been to improve the lives of people. But a new wave of technologies is actually able to perform cognitive functions better than the people they are replacing.
The perfect example of this is driverless cars. While Google’s self-driving vehicles don’t have a spotless record, an automated vehicle has never caused a serious accident. Once these vehicles become mainstream, there may no longer be a need for a cab, truck, or delivery drivers.
Economists believe that this could develop one of two ways. In an ideal scenario, we’ll experience the world of “radical abundance.” This is the world where machines take over all the boring jobs that people do not want to do, leaving us to perform intellectually stimulating tasks. Things, like creating art, designing products or services, and participating in fun activities, could soon be the new norm. However, other economists paint a very different picture of the world.
Some believe that these technologies will only be owned by the super-rich. This would allow them to automate most jobs, pocketing all the income that could be made. This could lead to a period of massive unemployment, increasing the financial gap between the wealthy and poor. One thing is for certain, we’d need a different economic system to handle such a change.
However, such a radical change is a very long way away. What we need to focus on first is deciding how we would spend our time. This is the same conundrum faced by retirees. Work has almost become programmed into our DNA. In the absence of structure and demand, it’s likely that many people would begin to feel bored and unsure of what to do with themselves.
According to a Psychologist who studies at Harvard, shedding the shackles of employment may actually be good for our generation. Although it is a difficult process, many people find it highly liberating. People finally learn what inspires and drives them, creating a network of new people who can come up with ways to enhance our lives. When machines are doing all the work, we can instead focus on what we want our lives to be about, not simply how we can achieve that. Provided this change comes along gradually, it’s likely that our grandchildren could have lives we could never have imagined.