I’ve been reading a lot of books about “the future” lately. Artificial Intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, 3-D Printers. The Internet of Things (or as I like to refer to it, “Sensors. Sensors everywhere.” Growing organs from scratch, climate change, robotics, the list goes on.
I figure that if I’m researching a book called “Don’t Be Evil: A Guide To Being A Successful Human,” I should try to future-proof it the best I can. And that raises a fascinating question that I don’t yet have an answer to: “How do you win friends and influence people in a world where everything is automated?”
Because let’s assume for a second that a lot of the projections out there are right and almost half of all jobs that currently exist are wiped out due to robotics and artificial intelligence in less than thirty years. Let’s also assume we somehow figure out how to fund universal basic income for everyone. (I think the Frightful Five, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and Amazon should fund it through paying their damn taxes and paying us with a cryptocurrency like the Basic Attention Token for using and being advertised to on their platforms.)
Now you have a whole lot of people with money and time. Or some cash and a lot of time because they’re not working. I’m not sure yet what they’re doing aside from being paid by advertisers to surf the Internet in exchange for seeing select advertisements from the companies willing to pay them for their time. In fact, if I was an advertising agency, I’d start lining up to be the middleman between companies and customers and brokering exchanges where the companies pay the customer in exchange for the customer viewing their advertisement on whatever platform they choose to watch it on. The agency collects a fee for its trouble and gets paid to do what they do best: The creative. The only downside to this is that if Facebook and Google are funding universal basic income, doing this sort of transaction between customer and brand would completely destroy the business model for Google and Facebook because advertisers wouldn’t need them as much to access customers. Fine by me (and most in the media and advertising industry, but that’s a post for another time.)
Oh, one more wrinkle: Let’s also assume that the jobs that are left in thirty years are all freelancer jobs. You make your schedule, but there’s no job security, and you can hop from company to company as much as you feel like it.Or maybe there are jobs offered on demand. One example I saw recently was concerning Walmart where, instead of scheduling their workers for the week in asinine ways to avoid providing them with health coverage or allowing them to live their lives properly, the workers can call Walmart any given morning and get themselves an assigned time slot to work instead. This gives the workers all the control, but it also completely removes any safety net. What if all the slots are filled up on the day you need work? But as I’m learning, there is no safety net. Not in the way my parents and their parents got anyway. I know unions have a bad reputation these days, and so does the government and the idea of a social safety net, but we need both of those entities to step up in a world like the one that’s coming. You’re going to need rules and regulations to manage companies because remember companies are not people and only want to make a profit, and people need protection from them. (As long as that protection doesn’t itself become onerous.)
If you look at the history of self-help books in America, the first book came out in 1859, which was followed by a recession in 1860 and came out a couple of years after the Great Panic in 1857. Napolean Hill’s “Think and Grow Rich” and George Clason’s “The Richest Man In Babylon” came out at the end of the Roaring Twenties and just before the Great Depression. Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” came out right smack during the depression.
Fast Foward to 2009 and the best selling book during the Lesser Depression was Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success.” Not coincidentally, we saw the rise of social media charlatans during the Lesser Depression as well. There’s a pattern here. When things are bad economically, the book that does the best are the books that tell you how to succeed in the 20th Century workforce. The thing is, what if there’s no more workforce? Or that the one we see in the 22nd Century is completely different? Does that make the skills you’d learn in a book like “Never Split the Difference” (negotiation) and “Creativity, Inc.” (management) more important, or less?
I don’t have a right answer for you just yet. That’s why I’m doing all this research in the first place. Here’s something I believe though: Any retraining that’s needed for people to go from one field or another can likely be provided by Augmented Reality and assisted through artificial intelligence and robotics. We have A LOT of humans globally who are getting older and need the best possible care they deserve, but not enough people to provide it.
What skills do that need to be a successful human?
We also, if we can get around the partisan bullshit and just be adults and pay for the things we need, have a ton of jobs that need to be filled over the next hundred years or so to rebuild the infrastructure of this country and prepare it for our warmer climate.
And then there’s my personal favorite, space exploration (both for science and for leisure.) If it’s true — and I don’t have much of a reason to doubt Stephen Hawking, do you? — That we need to get off this planet in six hundred years, that’s something we should start working on now, and that means plenty of opportunity for people (and for-profit) to get ready to do just that. We also have a global population boom of young people around the world, not only in the US, that need a quality education. That means we need great teachers (and well-paid teachers) to help us train the next workforce for the challenges that lay ahead.
Ok. One more, since this one strikes near and dear to my heart as a creative: We need to bring back the Works Progress Administration and reinvigorate the National Endowment for the Arts. The Internet Economy, thanks to a whole lot of greed and stupidity, has hollowed out the creative class so thoroughly that if I were my niece’s age, I wouldn’t even bother learning to play an instrument or to draw because there’s no money in it. You might enjoy your free music on Spotify, but with the meager amount Spotify pays artists (in-part because you’re listening for free), there are fewer musicians able to support themselves; Especially because fewer and fewer people are buying whole albums anymore. Art is a necessity. If we don’t have art, we’re just robots. Art fuels and inspires people. Great music fuels and inspires people. Creative endeavors of all kinds encourage fun and play, and if you want people to be able to think laterally and be innovative, you need to promote fun and play as much as possible. (I’m a big believer that it’s the STEM Majors that are going to be shit out of luck, not the liberal arts majors, once this automation wave crests for precisely that reason.)
You get the idea. We have these needs to be met, but the question is whether or not we’re all doing what we need to as a species to meet them. I’m looking to help fill that gap the best I can.
I’m all ears if any of you have thoughts or suggestions along the way. Hit me up.