Most of you spend your time thinking about the here and now. I, on the other hand, spend much of my time thinking about the future. Of late, two books that have influenced my thinking are ABUNDANCE and THE SECOND MACHINE AGE. They both consider the impact of changes in technology.
THE SECOND MACHINE AGE describes a world in which work is increasingly done by machines. It is a world in which the impact of the exponential increase in power of computer technology, digitalization of information, and the combination of technologies create a shift from labor to capital of the inputs receiving the rewards of investment.
Learning to work with the machines of the future will empower us to have meaningful work to do, contribute to society, and feel fulfilled. However, this work will require new skills and new ways of thinking. We are already seeing this shift as the spread in income distribution grows wider. The “ladder” of opportunity has been raised requiring higher skills for most work. There is a growing underclass that is being left behind as our workforce development efforts fall short and our obsolete education system prepares people for the jobs of the past.
While the inevitable march of technology moves forward, creating a world of great abundance, it also disrupts old business models, displaces workers, and threatens us with functional obsolescence. Will there be meaningful work for us to do in it?
Will artificial intelligence and robots become androids with capabilities beyond those of their human creators? What will our role be in this world? These are some of the things I wonder about.
The choices we make now will have significant impact on future generations. While I am optimistic that our children will adapt to this new world, I want to give them the best opportunity to do so. Routine work, whether manual or cognitive, will be automated. Workforce development efforts focused on non-routine manual or cognitive work will give them a better chance.
Meanwhile, back on Earth in the year 2015, we see the beginning of the SECOND MACHINE AGE and ABUNDANCE in the self-driving car, our virtual assistant on our phone, and the customized medications we take based on our DNA. The connected digital planet continues to spin, and life goes on. But, where are we headed?