söndag 15 mars 2015

After work - Life after jobs disappear

I'm part of an ad-hocish group that will organise a symposium at KTH next month on the theme "After work" - what do we do when the robots have taken our jobs?". The symposium will more specifically be held on Tuesday April 21 (17.00-20.00) and we have a great program and a great line-up of speakers for the event. The program is divided into three parts (one hour each):

  1. Technological and economic driving forces behind computerisation (see further below)
  2. The lost jobs and the new jobs
  3. Effects on the individual and on society
The organisers have met regularly since the end of last year and the other organisers are:
Here is a background to this seminar about automatisation and the consequences for work. It is not an official text from the group who organises the symposium, but rather the background of my own personal interest in these topics (parts are based on a report I wrote last year):

While machines have been used to mechanise industry and agriculture for a century or more, the arrival of industrial robots during the 1970’s and 1980’s marked the beginning of a new phase of mechanisation. What is new is that mechanisation, automatisation, informationalisation and rationalisation now have reached also office/white collar jobs and we can expect many such professions to be replaced by computers and algorithms during the next few decades. Any task that a human being does, but that could be executed by a robot and/or a computer (e.g. an algorithm), will over time tend to see the human being replaced by a robot and/or computers - and some now argue that the pace is picking up. Brynjolfsson and McAfee, in their book "Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution Is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment" (2011) argue that the increase in pace is a result of the combination of a number of mechanical and especially digital (computational) technologies that are now coming together, and, that the result will be that people will be replaced by technologies at an increasing pace. A research report from 2013 by Frey and Osborne (The future of employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation?) sifted through 700 professions in the US market and concluded that up to 46% of these professions could be replaced by digital and automated technologies within the next 20 years. Google's chairman Eric Schmidt agrees in an article titled "The robots are coming for your job" (McFarland 2014) as does Bill Gates who states that "people don't realize how many jobs will soon be replaced by software bots" (Bort 2014).

So, will new jobs be created automagically as old jobs disappear or are these developments something that changes the rules of the game? Might this be something we should think about and plan for already today? If so, how? These are the questions we want to raise at the symposium and we hope that we can fill the lecture hall we have booked to the very last seat with academics, politicians, industry representatives, intellectuals, students etc. My 5 cents that I bring to the table extends the questions above into areas related to sustainability; what would such developments mean for production and consumption? What would it mean for work life and time use? Will we share jobs and leisure time more equally in the future (at a lower material standard than today) or will we see a bifurcation in our societies between the busy haves and the poor have-nots?

We have a great line-up of speakers and panelists and I think the event will be great. Already planning the event has lead to many interesting and thought-provoking discussions within the group of organisers. Do we work too much? Sure we do! Do I work too much? Sure I do! Should we plan ahead for "basic income" (a guaranteed citizen's salary/minimal income)? We should probably consider it and it would be a boon for environmental and social sustainability, but how would it be financed? I hope we will get to discuss these and other question on April 21. See you then!

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