One of the major topics in the world of work today is the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or in other words, the current wave of digital automation. As computers and artificial intelligence become more complex and capable, many humans are (and will continue to be) replaced by robots and other digital systems.
Whenever I’ve heard businesspeople discuss this current revolution, it’s often expressed with an unmistakable sense of optimism…
“Think of the benefits! People won’t have to work as much anymore.”
“There will be huge efficiency gains.”
“So many new jobs will be created because someone will have to maintain the robots!”
Those are some of the typical lines that are trotted out by companies today.
I’ve never really been satisfied with any of these assertions, as they always seem to be delivered by people in high-up, managerial positions. Current CEOs and top-level managers get to enjoy their profit today and are unlikely to be affected by future automation. As the global population grows, there is a chance that not everyone will be addressed. Also, not everyone has the intelligence or inclination to become an advanced software developer or robot maintenance specialist. No amount of carry-on about the coding revolution in schools will convince me of that.
I was very pleased to listen to a recent episode of ABC RN’s The Philosopher’s Zone, titled ‘When work stops working’, which deals with some of the issues of modern work. Whilst it doesn’t (and can’t possibly) offer all the answers, it deals with the questions of what work means today in a more considered, philosophical and ethical fashion. Where are we heading? What are the ethics to consider? In a world where no one has to work, how is wealth distributed fairly? How can we change the culture of work? I’m definitely not entirely pessimistic about the future—change is good and inevitable—but the conversation needs to go deeper.
If you’ve ever wondered what work is actually for, have a listen to the episode. Work is such a major part of our society and it goes on to influence individuals’ personal identities. We should all take much more notice of how our jobs shape our lives.