Will the Future of Work be Ethical?

At the Last Futurist, we talk about how automation is coming and what that might mean for a lot of humanity who won’t have the necessary skills or education to participate in the labor force of the 2030, 40s and 50s.

As Surveillance Capitalism evolves, will a basic income a la “Yang Gang” really help us with a freedom dividend? Even as a billionaire class 1% gain even more control over us and the system? It’s very hard to imagine a future where the future of work will be ethical. As wealth inequality accelerates in the 2020s, it’s starting to worry young people and analysts alike.

People fix things. Tech doesn’t fix things, but what happens when the technology starts to displace the human worker across industries such as manufacturing, transportation, retail, finance and other fields simultaneously circa 2025 and accelerating drastically in the 2030s?

Wealth Inequality is the Greatest Risk Factor to the Future Ethics of Work

In a world where capitalism has become less about opportunity and more about debt management, how can we realistically expect the future of work to become more ethical? Wealth inequality pervades capitalism as a pyramid system where the rich get richer and the poor have less opportunities for social mobility than in decades.

The coming automation economy is a “big crunch” in how the future of work and the labor force of the future will actually work. You don’t have to read the MIT Technology Review to know what’s coming.

The potential for job disruption has been played down by studies that now say more jobs will be created than will be lost. But is this true? And when and in what order?

The Silicon Six Companies Don’t Actually Care About Ethics

Won’t tomorrow’s leaders, despite good and ethical intentions, ultimately use their high-tech tools to exploit others ever more efficiently? Isn’t that what we have seen with the Silicon Six companies of Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Walmart and Apple? With global corporations becoming more powerful each year even in their growing labour pools there are signs of dissidents, grave social injustice, discrimination, and safety & ethical concerns.

Automation, wealth inequality, rising healthcare costs, a student debt crisis – they all point to significant challenges in the ethics around the future of work. Automation will impact first and most significantly our most vulnerable populations, such as the lower class, women, single mothers and low-skilled workers.

Technological Automation is Coming

Pink collar workers indeed face the most significant employment disruption due to technology in the 2020s. You don’t have to read World Economic Forum articles to intuitively know how this will be true.

A skill shortage combined with increased healthcare costs would be bad enough, without a student debt crisis and approaching technological automation.

According to PwC economists, up to 30% of existing jobs could be impacted by the mid-2030s, with the transport, manufacturing and retail sectors particularly affected. In the 2030s white collar jobs will also be significantly impacted by AI eliminating some of their tasks thereby lowering demand while in other sectors intense skills shortages increase incentives for AI to automate those sectors increasingly.

Going with TechCrunch that like to promote books, in his book Winners Take All, writer Anand Giridharadas critiques what he calls the religion of “win-winism”: the belief that the people whose ever-increasing domination of our social, economic, and political world are not only capable of fixing the problems of inequality and injustice their domination causes, but are in fact ideally positioned — by virtue of their victories — to be saviors and liberators to those who’ve lost.

No doubt Jeff Bezos cares about the planet and Mark Zuckerberg might follow Bill Gates into philanthropy, but that’s not to say the 1% have the intention or the power to create a more ethical future of work in a scenario where AI, robots, machine learning and new paradigms of self-learning smart machines impact most jobs and industries progressively in the decades ahead.

Who is Immune to a Future of Work that is Less Ethical?

Will people skills, creativity and self-learning really protect humans from being disrupted in their careers and job-skills in a world where technology begins to change faster than people can adapt at scale? How do Governments, regulators and technologists protect people from a future where ethics, inequality and social-justice may all be challenged?

The algorithmic, augmentation and autonomy phases of the automation economy are likely to have profound impacts we cannot even in 2020 fairly predict. What will it be like to live in the workforce of 2030? We just don’t know entirely.

Vulnerable Populations Will Suffer Economically the Most with Rising Automation

According to the World Economic Forum, across all age groups, women could be displaced first due to the larger numbers of women in clerical positions in different industries. But at a broader level, women are more concentrated in sectors such as education and health, which require more personal and social skills that are less easily automated (for now).

Andrew Yang and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez are going to be talking about the automation economy for years and decades to come. Just as a student debt crisis and rising healthcare costs cripple today’s youth, they will face even more significant challenges in their future of work due to smarter machines and a society that is based on principles of exaggerated inequality, surveillance capitalism.

The future of work is not highly likely to be ethical. This is because as technology continues to intersect with capitalism, the incentives that used to work will no longer hold true and the system will be de-stabalized by AI, just as algorithms have disrupted democracy, the media, free speech, privacy and so forth.

The future of work is embedded in a profoundly different world, one where GDP is bolstered by AI and automation has gradually and largely replaced the human division of labour in society. What kind of a world will that be?

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