robots

Over the past 30 years and through to tomorrow we are witnessing the so-called Digital Revolution, which, like the Industrial Revolution before it, has and will continue to drastically reshape our existence on this planet. This means redefining what it is to be a productive human in our society, be it moving out of the fields and into the factories or out of the factories and into the office. But the next redefinition leaves some questioning: out of the office and into…where?

According to a recent study conducted by researches at Oxford University nearly 50% of today’s jobs could be fully automated in the next 20 years–with the logistics, transportation, and administrative support fields at most risk. Computer programs can detect faces on CCTV footage better than human security guards; driverless cars may soon replace taxi and bus drivers; and vast swathes of low-skill factory work is quickly being overrun by increasingly adept mechanical drones. This presents a problem for our typical model of society where people provide a service for money and use that money to buy goods and other services for everyday living. If goods and services are increasingly being provided by robots, but still cost money, how will humans fit into the economic web?

To address this, countries may soon have to make big decisions on how to retool their workforces. The Economist reports that this sweep of technological revolution is hitting the richest countries first, as to be expected. But soon the effects will make their way through poorer countries and begin to reshape political and social structures worldwide. This revolution has rewarded the crafty and inventive–those like AirBnB and GrubHub who seek funky new niches in the digital world–but has hit labor forces hard. Unemployment remains high in first-world countries, partly due to continually unstable economic climates. But as The Economist reports, since 2000, the proportion of working age Americans in work has fallen from 65% to 59% despite good or bad economic times.

Only time will tell what this means for humanity. Widespread automation could lead to reduced costs of living and a utopian (if Wall-E-esque) leisure paradise, but it could also mean large scale panic and revolution. Governments will need to act fast to address the growing concerns and issues surrounding technological advances in the workforce, perhaps by bolstering education to shift labor into more engineering and theoretical niches, or by implementing tax benefits or universal basic income programs.

The future looks uncertain, but it’s up to each and every one of us to make it as bright as possible. And at least we know this for sure, there will always be great music 😉

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