The Future of Work

We are living through a new economic revolution that will challenge existing economic and social thinking.

Roughly 150 years ago, the Industrial Revolution swept the world, sparking major increases in wealth and productivity. But it also wrought huge social changes, as agricultural workers made the painful transition to factory work and city life.

Today, we are living through a new revolution, and whether you call it the digital revolution or the Artificial Intelligence Age, it’s likely to transform our lives.

Artificial intelligence and technology will have a huge impact on the way we work and, possibly, on whether we work at all. According to Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine, 65 percent of the jobs out there today won’t exist in the next ten to 15 years. Whether you’re a laborer or a lawyer, a tailor, or a translator, the current wave of automation threatens your livelihood.

Now, history is full of people worrying about technology taking away jobs, and yet most of us are still employed. In nineteenth-century Britain, a group of textile workers called the Luddites protested new manufacturing techniques for taking away their jobs. But what those techniques led to was seamstresses gaining new skills and jobs and textile costs coming down. Sure, there was some short-term pain. But technology created new roles just as it destroyed old ones, and it made everyone richer in the long run.

In the new age of artificial-intelligence-powered growth, though, the results of growth may not be shared equally.

Consider the difference between two hugely successful businesses, Instagram and Kodak. When Kodak was at its peak, it provided a livelihood for 145,000 people and their families. By contrast, when Facebook acquired Instagram for $12 billion in 2012, Instagram had just 12 employees in total. And Instagram isn’t unique; two years later, Facebook paid $19 billion for Whatsapp, which had 400 million users but only 55 employees.

So, the lessons of the past may no longer apply in the future. Our current economic revolution could lead to far more Instagrams and far fewer Kodaks. Consequently, we might see a growing gulf between a tiny but super-rich elite and an increasingly jobless middle class.

To deal with these problems, we need to consider new ideas. Like universal basic income, for example, which the state would use to provide all citizens with enough money on which to live. If our governments can respond to these challenges intelligently, then we may all benefit; if they get it wrong, we face a difficult road ahead.

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Olusola Bodunrin
Olusola Bodunrin is a social commentator with a passion for gathering facts on social issues. He is writer, businessman, blogger, and wardrobe consultant. He is a graduate of Philosophy from the University of Ado-Ekiti. He anchors – ‘What You Should Know’ on SHEFFA. ‘What You Should Know’ is a column that offers to educate and enlighten the public on general falsehood and myths.