Rethinking work and building a new society


Artificial intelligence and automation are increasingly capable of performing today’s work tasks. To a large extent, they don’t just replace human workers, but empower and support them, working in symbiosis with humans and helping us achieve more. However, realistically, automation will also reduce the total number of workers humans necessary.

Just as robots on assembly lines automate some of the work of factory workers, self-driving systems will begin to do the same for taxi drivers and long-haul haulers, RPA smartphones and rigs. Workflow software will automate the work of many white-collar workers, and text generators like GPT-3 could begin to replace the work of journalists and editors in publications.

Large-scale technological unemployment could be a catastrophe, or it could be the opportunity we need to rethink the concept of work and restructure it in a healthier, fairer and more beneficial way.

Today, the jobs that do the most good for society are often among the lowest paid: caring for young children and the elderly, caring for, growing and preparing food, or working in the field of health. . While it is true that a large part of our status comes from our income, these vitally important jobs are among the most undervalued.

If machines take over much of our work, it could be the push we need to redefine work and reinvent a more equal and communal society where people spend more time caring for their families. , their neighbors and their communities.

We could spend less time commuting to work and sitting in cubicles, and we could spend more time outdoors, making us healthier and less prone to burnout. Our pride and status would come from our relationships, not our jobs.

How to do it? Well, as a Galician, here’s a question worthy of a Netflix series… Will massive technological unemployment lead to the utopia described above or a dystopia in which a wealthy minority owns the technology and everyone is starving in the streets?

Undoubtedly, the key lever that will make the difference will come from the hand of educational and cultural institutions which, backed by State pacts resulting from the agreement of all the actors involved, will play a fundamental role. Automation is an asset that can bring huge economic benefits, and it will be necessary to determine who reaps these benefits and how the pie is shared fairly. Consider oil as a comparable asset.

Norway and Saudi Arabia have rich oil reserves and therefore both have high GDP. However, Norway has a higher standard of living and a lower environmental impact. It scores better than Saudi Arabia in a series of social and environmental indicators: life expectancy, average years of schooling, GDP per capita, murder rate and CO2 emissions per capita.

Both Saudi Arabia and Norway have an asset that has made them rich, but their different government policies have made a difference in the quality of life of their citizens. The Economist Intelligence Unit and ABB have created the Automation Readiness Index (ARI) which assesses how prepared different countries are for the challenges and opportunities presented by intelligent automation.

ARI considers the skills of each country’s workforce, as well as its government’s labor market policies and the extent to which its government initiatives encourage innovation. The result is a measure of how likely each country is to translate the potential of automation into real benefits for its citizens.

The countries with the best ARI scores are South Korea, Germany, Singapore, Japan and Canada. Governments cannot simply wait for technological unemployment to become a serious problem. They need to plan ahead so they can adapt and make the most of the change.

If they do nothing or wait for private companies to solve the problem on their own, they could risk large-scale social unrest, because the benefits of automation will reach only a few.

On the other hand, educational and cultural institutions must help shape our priorities and norms, decouple our value from our contribution to the economy, and lead the transition from a culture that derives its status from work and income to a culture that draws it from community and relationships.

I like to be positive, but on this subject, I am extremely cautious. And not because I don’t trust the goodness of technology, but because I don’t trust the skill of those who steer the ship. Too focused on the past and not even focused on the future. Using the benefits of automation to build a new, fairer and more relational society is in our hands, but we must act quickly. It’s unstoppable!

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