The Future Of Work Is Technical-ly Here

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The “end of work” is the notion that, with time, artificial intelligence will bring an end to work as we know it. For many, the concept cues up images of endless vacations. For more, it is a terrifying proposition. Work drives communities and builds societies. Some of the greatest civilizations in the world have been felled by an excess of leisure (Rome, being the classic example, as well as the Song Dynasty). If work is gone, but endeavor is necessary for society to survive what, then, will come to fill its place?  The key is to let technology work in your favor.


Some people consider the effects of technology like an iCloud of looming doom, while others are more optimistic about where our rapidly advancing digital age is leading us. We are entering the age of self-driving cars (More time to Netflix and chill!), the merging of the human brain with artificial intelligence (Win every game of Jeopardy!) and being able to eat a burger that was grown, not butchered (Animal welfare and ecological win!). Despite the emphatic positives, it is only natural to feel like we are losing grip of the reins a bit when it comes to whether technology is progressing at a rate that is too fast for our own good. Those self-driving cars will claim jobs, AI will change the educational landscape, and lab-grown meat with change one of the largest and most lucrative industries in the world. Still, few of us want to be the one crying robot.


In a 2015 article for the Atlantic, Derek Thompson noted that, while the prevailing notion is that employment and unemployment operate as a binary, the reality of work today is a spectrum. There are those who are fully-employed in the traditional sense and those who would identify themselves as unemployed, but also a huge segment of people somewhere in between. These are the part-timers, the seasonal workers, the freelancers, the digital nomads, the entrepreneurs, and more. And they, quite possibly, have the most to gain from the “end of work.”


These somewhere-in-betweeners are harnessing technology as a vehicle by identifying the intersection of passion and possibility. ‘Side hustles’ are one of the byproducts. A not-job that is a job, side hustles have grown in popularity, especially among millennials, as they allow a person to both dip their toes into alternative waters and to build a backup plan or, if they truly hate their current gig, an escape route. In a 2017 article in the Guardian, Justin Tobin, Founder of the innovation consultancy DDG, shares his observation that jobs are now seen more like a stock portfolio than a single investment. Rather than “putting all your money into one stock,” he says, “a better strategy is to diversify your portfolio.” The process of doing this is likely as protective as it exploratory — every risky investment must have a hedge.


The effects of the current emerging technologies, such as AI, have only begun to reveal themselves, but our definition of work and mental constructs of what working looks like are already being challenged. This is not new. Factories challenged home-production, big agriculture challenged small farms, and the list goes on as far back as we can reach, and surely far past what we can even attempt to predict. So it is only natural to worry about one’s job security, but we are also entering a new age of opportunity. By harnessing technology, we can be our diverse, complicated, and multifaceted selves. We can push beyond the limits of the past, defining what it means to work once work has ended.


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