In 1943, Abraham Maslow proposed his now well-known theory of human motivation, ie, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — starting with physiological things like food, water, and shelter, and increasing in complexity and fulfilment, culminating in self-actualization: the achievement of one’s personal and creative potential.
While that may seem a strange starting point for a conversation on the future of work and jobs in a post-automation world, it is not. The truth is, we are rushing into a future of mass automation where most manual labor and “left-brained” thinking becomes the domain of robotics and AI. There is simply no way a human can compete with the raw power and efficiency of a robotic replacement. The same holds true for a super intelligence with an I.Q. of a trillion.
At some point, in the not too distant future, humanity will be outstripped by our robotic creations in many areas of work and production. We are seeing this already today as algorithms automate investment banking, cars are cutting out the driver, and with the right software and leverage, entrepreneurs can create dominant global brands with only a handful of employees. And we are only now at the take-off point of technology and AI. Everyday, breakthroughs in machine learning, deep learning, neural networks, and more are pushing the boundaries further.
But robots aren’t here to take our jobs
If Hollywood and extreme corporate capitalism (as practiced in the US and Brazil) have taught us anything, or burned any fearful image into our brains, it is that the robots will replace us in pursuit of productivity and profit. Although we have seen much of that today, so-called artificial intelligence, rather than eliminating jobs, has mostly augmented them. The customer service agent that could once handle one or two clients can now handle twenty…
While many may argue that that leads to a net decrease in the number of call center jobs, I’d counter with the possibilities these increases in efficiency create. If we are able to free people from manual and repetitive labor, what opportunities would this open up for them to rise on Maslow’s hierarchy, creating new and unforeseen jobs and amazingness in our world?
Robots need not apply
Though it may seem like robotics and AI are progressing at an unprecedented pace and will continue to automate every aspect of our lives, I can assure you, that is not the case. There are many areas where robots fall flat and cannot compete with humans. Even in the area of self-driving, touted by many in Silicon Valley as an easy task AI would solve and replace humans within years, we are still miles away from true level five autonomy.
And driving is easy compared to other areas. Imagine art, innovation, education, childcare… Do you really believe a robot that can soothe a screaming toddler or teach (and hold the attention of), a group of eighth graders is just around the corner?
Moravec’s Paradox states that: anything that is easy for a human, is hard for a robot, and vice versa. It is the paradox of our differing forms of intelligence, because unlike AI, which is designed purely around I.Q. (intelligence quotient) and solving logical/mathematical problems, humans have between seven-to-eleven other forms (depending on your theory) of uniquely valuable, human intelligence, including: Linguistic, Spatial, Musical, Kinesthetic, Intrapersonal, Interpersonal, Naturalistic, and Emotional Intelligence.
It is in these areas, in the chasms between the competencies of artificial intelligence and robotics that we find not only our all-important humanity, but our future.
The Future of Work Pyramid
As humanity automates more and more of the mundane, we create the space for true inspiration, innovation, and artistic expression. The more we free ourselves and our time from the shackles of productivity and per-hour employment, the greater our potential to not only accomplish great things, but to be fulfilled in our work in the process.
Prior to the 1900s, 30–40+% of the entire population was employed in agriculture, until, in 1926, Henry Ford’s invention of the assembly line created the industrialized (robot-esque) workforce. This factory of human labor persisted until the advent of the PC and microprocessor, known as the computer era. And today, thanks to the internet and interconnectedness of all of us, we are living in the digital age.
Automation will bring about another step change as we are forced/able to evolve beyond data, information, and logical intellect (which so dominate the current paradigm) to a higher, deeper understanding, bordering on wisdom, as we pursue purpose.
This is the future of work, this is where humanity shines. This is the area that robots and AI will never touch, because they don’t have purpose or a calling — instead, they have an algorithm, or an objective, or something to optimize.
And if I have learned anything in my almost sixty years on this Earth and work as a futurist, it is that purpose and creativity cannot be optimized. They, like life itself, arise from chaos and spontaneity.
So, let’s not worry about the future of work and robots coming to take our jobs. Instead, let’s build a better future, one focus around human-centric values and possibilities, one that empowers rather than enslaves (For more on this topic, see our previous posts on the creating The Good Future: People, Planet, Purpose, and Prosperity).
Because the truth is, our choices determine the future.
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