Our Digital Golden Age

By 2030, it is predicted that 2 billion jobs will disappear, approximately 50% of the jobs on the planet. What does that mean for our lives in just 13 years? Will we be ravaged by unemployment and social inequality? Or will we have entered a golden age of development?

The classical period of Greece (4-5th century BCE) was a cultural explosion that saw extensive development in philosophy, science, architecture, art, theatre, literature and the creation of the political system known as democracy. It was a period of intense creative production that arguably shaped the development of the western world as we know it today.

The catalyst that drove the birth of this period was a transition from subsistence agriculture and every man for himself, to the development of coinage, collective abundance and the merchant class. Here we see diversification of social, economic and political models. Above all, we see the development of the concept of leisure time. Naturally, how can a man who needs to work a farm develop time to ponder the ways of the world? He needs someone to work the farm instead. Enter slavery. With the hard work of the day covered, the man has more time to manage his farm and consider other things. The concept of work and leisure arrives and we have the beginnings of a new system of hierarchy: those who have free time and those who do not.

In the absence of a second wave of slavery, what could disrupt our economic and social system in such a significant way, what could free up our labour force to such an extent? Look around and you can start to guess: the development of AI and chatbots, driverless cars, IoT, wearable technology. In our modern world, humans are not required to do the work, we automate. Enter the robots.

It is estimated that by 2030, we will lose 2 billion jobs across the globe. Most of these jobs will be in unskilled labour. More and more jobs will require less human input because a robot can do the work better. Will this be a tragedy for unskilled workers? Or will our new found abundance of leisure time re-organise our world to engage more with abstract and creative thought? Will we move from working because we have to earn money to engage with our current economic model, or will we move to people working because they want to, because they feel passionate about something, because they have a talent?

Gallup has been measuring employee engagement in the USA since 2000 i it notes consistent numbers when it comes to employees who are active, enthusiastic and committed to their work. That number is 32%, with a global average of just 13%. The rest of employees, the other 68-87%, are significantly less productive but still paid alongside their highly engaged and productive colleagues.

Unhappy employees are not only disruptive to workplace flow, they can also put pressure on our health care systems. Ground breaking research in 2012 from the Carnegie Mellon University, was able for the first time to provide evidence that continuous psychological stress significantly contributes to higher rates of illness as the body’s inflammatory response is reduced. What would it look like for our health care systems if we were able to reduce the number of people being treated for stressed related illness?

In preparation for a digitally driven world, Finland has commenced a trial of the universal income where 2,000 selected unemployed citizens are receiving a living wage. They will continue to be paid this wage even if they find employment. At the World Government Summit in Dubai, Elon Musk warned that governments will need to start looking seriously at universal income as more jobs become automated. However, he expressed concern that the greatest challenge would be for people to find meaning in a world where so much of our purpose is derived from our employment.

So, here we are, at a pivotal point of time. Thirteen years away from 2 billion fewer jobs. We are on the cusp of something new, a time that will require changes to our economic, social and political systems. Will we respond fast enough? Will we embrace leisure time and shift our economic and political systems to suit? Will we adjust what we have or are we on the verge of creating something new? If our technology is already developing at an exponential rate, what new innovations will we uncover when we have more time to create?

Perhaps we are on the verge of our next creative cultural explosion. Enter 2030, the dawn of our next golden age.

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