Careers and robots: will technology usher in an age of leisure?

In 1967, Walter Cronkite speculated “Technology is opening a new world of leisure time. One government report projects that by the year 2000, the United States will have a 30-hour work week and month-long vacations as the rule.” This American life-of-leisure has not arrived yet and its 2016. Perhaps we just have to wait a little longer. If what Martin Ford suggests in “Rise of the Robots” comes true, we will not have to work. Is the world ready?

For perspective, let me reflect on an inspiring talk that IBM Fellow John Cohn delivered at Interconnect 2016. Cohn provided this advice for a time where careers are disrupted more and more by advances in technology, “find your way with play”. The short-term takeaway is that we can all benefit from play, even when we think we should be heads-down working. The longer term question is, would our lives be better if we could play more often or even all the time.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 8.02.06 PMSerious Play: An Engineer’s Perspective on Fun and Passion at Work

Those of us in technology know that change happens fast and it takes a lot of effort to keep pace. What if artificial intelligence and robots could drive a robust economy and lead to an age of abundance? John Maynard Keyes predicted in 1928 that, by 2028, no one would need to worry about making money. Sounds good, right? For most of us, doesn’t sipping drinks on the beach sound better than living the “rat race”?

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 8.28.15 PM

Martin Ford believes that transition to world with artificial intelligence will be challenging. Ford presented at Cloud Foundry Summit 2016 about the the threat of a jobless future. It was a fascinating talk but terrifying for folks thinking about their careers. Picture an audience of 1000+ career-oriented professionals learning about how artificial intelligence would displace jobs. At least those in the audience would likely be in a good position to create the robots.

In his book, “Rise of the Robots”, Ford says,

If you look at the techno-optimistic view, then there is a future where nobody needs to have a job that they hate, while nobody should have to do a job that is dangerous. But how we get to that point depends on us figuring out a way of adapting, so that everyone in society gets a share of the benefits that the technology brings. But in the short run, politically and economically this is a tough problem, and I am very doubtful that we will make the necessary adaptations without some sort of crisis.

So what will happen in the short run? Will we resist change and fight for the jobs we are comfortable with, like how the Brits voted for BREXIT?

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 6.13.03 PM

It is difficult to predict the future. Until we arrive at an age of abundance, people will still need jobs and technology will drive disruption. What I believe is good advice is a combination hard work and play. For those of us feeling stuck in the “rat race”, listen to what John Cohn has said, “find your way with play”. Check out his talk, Serious Play: An Engineer’s Perspective on Fun and Passion at Work.



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