The headline, Your job as a human: Nobel Laureate calls for open arms jumped out of The Sydney Morning Herald on Dec 14, 20181. Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, was calling for people to open their arms to refugees. It prompted me to reflect on our job as human beings and, with the rise of robots and artificial intelligence, what form our jobs will take in the future of work.
- Should we embrace computer augmentation by robotic process automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence or should we keep it at arms-length?
- Will the so-called digital divide between the haves and have nots open up even further, with some of us augmenting our potential but others of us wasting away through lack of work?
- What is our job as a human through this huge economic and social change?
No doubt, like the previous Industrial Revolutions, there will be good and bad impacts. We know that Industry 1.0 saw positive production and productivity benefits from steam powered machinery in factories but also contributed to negative consequences such as pollution and exploitation of underage workers. Now, the World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs2 report observes that we are at the beginning of a Fourth Industrial Revolution, the Industry 4.0.
It states in part, “The Fourth Industrial Revolution is interacting with other socio-economic and demographic factors to create a perfect storm of business model change in all industries, resulting in major disruptions to labor markets. New categories of jobs will emerge, partly or wholly displacing others. The skill sets required in both old and new occupations will change in most industries and transform how and where people work. It may also affect female and male workers differently and transform the dynamics of the industry gender gap.”
Industry 4.0 will augment our human potential intellectually and physically, but we will also see a negative result on traditional jobs. According to the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, the consequence of the Fourth Industrial Revolution is a high probability that 40% of Australia's workforce could be replaced by automation over the next two decades.”2
Not only are robots performing manual processes in industries such as mining and manufacturing, increasingly sophisticated tasks are being augmented and replaced by Robotic Process Automation, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Robots are increasingly taking over -- from autonomous, self-driving vehicles to surgeons using robots to perform surgeries and AI to diagnose diseases to customer service centers using chatbots and intelligent ad targeting.
This impact is not limited to low and middle skilled ‘blue-collar’ workers in Australia’s mining and manufacturing sectors either. Richard and Daniel Susskind3 in The Future of the Professions also see a technological threat to ‘white collar’ workers such as lawyers, accountants, tax advisors, architects, doctors, journalists etc. The Susskinds say “We are advancing into a post-professional society...Our view is that there is nothing so special or unique about professionals’ knowledge to suggest that some of it cannot be made easily accessible and understandable on an online basis.”
Eminent futurists, economists, politicians, ethicists and contract practitioners like you and me are divided on the positive and negative impacts of the growth in robotics and AI. Many fear Industry 4.0 as a force beyond our control. As Tom Standage4 of The Economist said, “Politicians are used to dealing with uncertainty, yet in this case they seem paralysed.” Others like, Elon Musk,5 the Tesla and SpaceX CEO, believes that AI brings risk and may pose an “existential threat...to human civilization,” hence, we should prepare now and regulate the industry. He says that we need to “learn as much as possible” to better understand the problem.
Apple co-founder and Silicon Valley tech icon Steve Wozniak6 isn't worried that robots will leave us all unemployed, saying "Over time - society seeks equilibrium and everyone winds up basically with a job…So just because one category of jobs disappears doesn't mean others aren't coming in now and in the future." Yuval Noah Harari7 predicts that “by 2050 a new class of people might emerge – the useless class. People who are not just unemployed, but unemployable.” Others, like Timothy Ferris8 in The Four Hour Work Week, believe that work is a means to an end and that “a tolerable and comfortable existence doing something unfulfilling is the most common and most insidious” problem whereas “the perfect job is the one that takes the least time.”
Will humans become just loose change in this changing world of robotic augmentation? Or will we be freed up to do more interesting and creative work? As contract and commercial managers pursuing contract economics and innovation, what role will we have in bringing about this future? What is our job as humans, now and into the future?
I would suggest, as did Charles Darwin and Stephen Hawking have said, that our job is to adapt. Our ability to adapt defines our human intelligence. But it is our ability to consider others which defines our humanity. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning9 holocaust survivor and respected psychiatrist Viktor Frankl shared the belief that “The greatest task for any person is to find meaning in his or her life. Frankl saw three possible sources for meaning: in work (doing something significant), in love (caring for another person), and in courage during difficult times.”
For contract and commercial managers, this world of economics and innovation is what we are asked by our employers to exploit. But what about the people who become not just unemployed, but unemployable? Are we contributing to a “useless class” as Noah Harari says? Do we need take stock and learn more as Elon Musk says? Do we need equal parts of work, care and courage to give meaning to these difficult times?
Viktor Frankl goes on to describe suffering that is “in and of itself is meaningless; we give our suffering meaning by the way in which we respond to it. Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation. You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you.”
IACCM’s vision is ‘a world where all trading relationships deliver social and economic benefit.’ We do need to balance short-term and long-term thinking, economic and social impacts, innovation and ethics. We cannot control the future, but we can choose how we respond to it.
IACCM conferences theme in 2019 is Creating Value Through Change: Contract Economics, Ethics, Innovation. We will reflect separately on contract economics and innovation, but we will also discuss the ethics of this seismic change in the future of work and our job as humans. We encourage you to come along and have your say on our job as humans.
Discover more at www.iaccm.com.
- Your job as a human is to welcome them…Julie Power, Dec 13, 2018; See also: https://www.smh.com.au/world/fairfax-photos-of-the-week--december-14-2018-20181213-h192ym.html
- World Economic Forum The Future of Jobshttp://reports.weforum.org/future-of-jobs-2016/
- Richard and Daniel SusskindThe Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts (2015).
- In his review of Nigel Cameron’s book will robots take your job?(2017)
- Elon Musk https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608296/elon-musk-urges-us-governors-to-regulate-ai-before-its-too-late/
- Yuval Noah Harari Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind& Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (2015).
- Timothy Ferris The Four Hour Work Week(2007) p. 9.
Harold S. Kushner in his foreword, Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (2006), x.