Andrew McAfee – The Future of Jobs (summary)

In this TED video, Andrew McAfee makes some predictions about the future of jobs.

His overarching prediction is that very soon, technological advancements will result in fewer people doing jobs in the following sectors.
• Driving
• Customer server reps and trouble shooters
• People working in warehouses.
He does point out that people have been predicting mass technological unemployment for about 200 years, but this time it’s different because today’s machines are acquiring new skills such as being able to listen and speak.
Our future world, what he calls the new machine age, is one in which there is more technology and fewer jobs. He argues that this is a good thing because…
1. This allows us to continue the trend towards increasing productivity and lower prices.
2. Once androids are doing the work, we are freed from drudge labour,

McAfee is optimistic about the future. He argues that when more people are freed by technology, this allows us to imagine a totally different society – One in which entrepreneurs, financiers, and artists etc. come to together to imagine alternative futures. He even goes as far as to say that he agrees with the following words of Freeman Dyson….. ‘technology is a gift of God. After the gift of life, it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of civilisation, of the arts and of the sciences.
He then poses the question: What could possibly go wrong?
Firstly, he says that the economic contradiction between increasing returns to capital and decreasing returns to labour that accompanies technological revolution still hasn’t been resolved – this is the same problem as Henry Ford realised a century ago – that decreasing wages means less demand, which is ultimately bad news for capital.
Secondly, he points to the social problems might emerge as we live in an increasingly polarised society in which more people are ejected out of the affluent middle classes. To do this, he invents two typical workers, Bill and Ted. Bill has no college education and is either employed in blue collar or low level white collar work, while Ted is college educated and works in a higher end professional job.

Through a series of graphs (that remind me of The Spirit Level), we are now shown that while Ted has maintained his social position in most respects after the first, Bill now faces a bleak future of increased marginalisation from the increasing wealth being generated…
1. He earns considerably less,
2. He is far more likely to be unemployed,
3. He is less likely to see his children go on to be upwardly socially mobile,
4. He is much more likely to go to jail.
5. He is less likely to vote.
This trend, of blue collar jobs disappearing is not likely to abate any time soon, because it is precisely such blue collar jobs that are under threat from new developments in technology.
One proposed solution to this is a guaranteed national income, which, he points out is far from being limited to Socialism, was in fact championed by the likes of Hayek, Freedman and Nixon.
He rounds of by saying that his biggest fear is that we could face a future in which we have glittering technologies embedded in shabby societies, supported by an economy which generates inequality rather than opportunity.
However, McAfee doesn’t think that this will happen because of growing awareness of the true nature (the ‘plain facts’) of the problems that we face and that this will result in a future of new technologies being used to allow greater numbers of people access abundance.

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