As a futurist, I’m often asked about the future of jobs. It is a concern for policy-makers, employers and the general population alike. What I realized, however, is that no one cares about losing the job itself. What they are worried about is how they will make a living in a future where they have become obsolete.
And yes, the fear of artificial intelligence (AI) is real. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates AI can automate 50% of all paid tasks today. Our primitive machine learning AI can easily complete repetitive human tasks better than any human could, including recognizing speech, context, shapes, and images. These narrow AI can also complete tasks like navigating an unpredictable field of obstacles, play an instrument, analyze large amounts of unorganized data and more. In 2021, AI will safely complete repetitive tasks with random components, like driving vehicles on crowded streets better than any human driver.
The speed at which AI is improving is astounding. The smart software is improving at an exponential rate since our software engineers use older versions of AI to help them program AI software updates.
In fact, developments in AI is so impressive and there is so much money invested by major well-known multinationals right now that most AI experts expect a human-level AI to emerge before the year 2040.
What will happen to the job market between now and the year 2040?
Well, our economy depends on most of the adult population working and paying taxes. Workers earn money to buy what they need. Then, income and sales taxes go to the government to pay for necessary government services. For the next 5–10 years, this pattern will continue despite the job disruptions because of new technologies. Job displacement is nothing new. It has happened throughout history. New technology makes work more efficient, meaning we need fewer people for the job, the new technology also creates new jobs. People adapt to the new job market by getting retrained, and life goes on.
People always find clever ways to add social value and get paid for it no matter the situation. However, the current wave of disruption we are calling the 4th Industrial Revolution will change everything.
Artificial general intelligence (or AGI), is an AI capable of doing any task a human would. We do not program AGI for specific tasks. Just like human beings, AGI have human-level artificial intelligence, thus they can adapt to changes and learn new tasks on their own. New technologies will keep displacing workers towards more creative, higher paying work, which is great, but since AGI can adapt to new tasks better than a human would, there is no room for retrained workers in the future.
AGI can work without human supervision, supported by hordes of narrow AI accessible through the Internet. It will not require rest, shelter or security. It will not sleep, get sick or complain. AGI will also be cheap since it is software. It’ll have the memory capacity of a supercomputer and access to all the second-by-second information of the Internet at its disposal. In the next few years, human workers will continue to transition to better paying, more creative type of work, but when AGI becomes available, it’ll be able to do the creative work better than human professionals too.
The human brain is an awesome organ, but in about 10 years, common computers will process as much information as a human brain per second and 18 months after that point, each personal computer will be twice as powerful. Standard AI and AGI will program itself into new versions and repair the fleets of robots completing tasks for us. AI could power all this activity using renewable sources of energy, maintained by AI and robots. AI and its actuators would constantly improve on themselves and have an infinite supply of power and raw materials. Our future is bright with an inexhaustible, self-repairing, self-improving army of AI and robots capable of doing every single task on the planet, present and future.
That’s good news because at last all that artificial capability can free humanity from the burden of survival and the concept of “working for a living”. For the fatalists, it is a nightmare.
Where does that leave us?
Well, just because robots and/or AI can do something, doesn’t mean we will let it. Humanity runs on offer and demand. If we humans want to deliver products and services by human beings, that’s a demand. If there is a demand for value provided by a human being, then someone can offer the proper service accordingly even though a robot could do the task more efficiently.
It is human nature. For example, ordering delivery food online today is impersonal and common. When delivery food arrives, most people wouldn’t care less whether it is a drone, a robot or a person hands over the bag. In that case, we just want the food quickly and warm.
But, if we go out with friends to a gourmet restaurant, we will take the time to get dressed and reserve a table. Most of us would expect a quality service from a good-natured warm-blooded person. We would expect a little personal human attention, perhaps joke with the waitress, get personal impressions of the specials and so on. From the onset, the intention behind the gourmet restaurant was more than just a good meal, but a special communal experience. No AI or robot can replace that because the customers in this scenario wanted a human social experiment. We rarely go to gourmet restaurants to be served quickly and efficiently.
One day, we’ll have access to biological robots and super sophisticated mechanical robots that would be considered conscious beings. These will fill new roles in society and fulfill new human desires, but there will always be a demand for real human flesh and blood interaction. Before the year 2040 our society will discuss the implications of biological and synthetic robots with consciousness, but that is a subject for a separate future article.
Suffice to say, human beings are social creatures and as long as we have social desires, we’ll want to interact with other human beings in many ways.
When we near the year 2040 and AGI rears its fascinating digital head, it will mean the end of a job-based economy. Between now and then, we’re living in the transition.
That’s why we need to think about changing our economy from one that requires everyone to work for a living, to one that is entirely independent of that fact. We need to use AI and robots as much as possible to eliminate undesirable work as soon as possible. In parallel, we need to change the economy to one that doesn’t require adults to work for the right to live. Unconditional basic income, the concept of giving a monthly amount to pay for basic needs, unconditionally, to every person in a nation, is a great transition step towards a future living with AGI.
We can build a new economy with all citizens at its core and structure government and private companies to serve the people instead of its own independent interests.
No matter what, human beings will always find creative ways to find value in society. We always do. But instead of being motivated by survival, we’ll do it out of passion for… whatever each one of us is passionate about. Then, consumers who ask for human interaction will still create a demand to be fulfilled by other human beings passionate about what they are about to offer.
The only difference in this possible future scenario and the present, is that by the year 2040, every person involved in the economy’s offer and demand scheme participates out of passion. It would be the beginning of a healthier society focused on happiness and well-being. It is a future I’d like to build. Are you ready?