See a Vision of the Jobless Future in This Beautiful Short Film

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What would a fully automated future without jobs look like?

The Guardian recently released an animated short set in a time when machines dominate the workforce. The story follows the last human worker going on with their average day. Most other humans seen are lining the streets in poverty, as empty high-rise apartment buildings line the skies. The short is beautifully depicted, but has frightening implications.

According to Moshe Vardi, professor of computer science at Rice University: “Machines could take 50% of jobs in the next 30 years.” And Andy Haldane, Bank of England chief economist, notes, “Machines are already undertaking tasks which were unthinkable—if not unimaginable—a decade ago.”

But not everyone believes the world seen in the film is our only option. There is hope.

Even as automation takes over many of today’s jobs—new opportunities may also appear as a result. And these jobs of the future may be much more meaningful for everybody.

“The light at the end of this tunnel,” writes Vivek Wadhwa, “may be a world in which the pursuit of enlightenment is more cherished than the pursuit of money.”

While extreme utopian and dystopian views ordinarily dominate the conversation, the possibility of a middle scenario appearing may be just as likely. And maybe the next generation of “jobs” will empower humans instead of devaluing them.

S. Vollie Osborn offers another fresh perspective: “The developments and innovations produced by passion, and aided by technology, have stretched the imagination. From the realization of many concepts formerly considered science fiction, to the creation of new forms of art, we already stand in awe of what passion and innovation can achieve.”

What do you think?

Image credit: The Guardian/YouTube

Andrew O'Keefe
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Andrew O'Keefe

Andrew operates as a media producer and archivist. Generating backups of critical cultural data, he has worked across various industries — entertainment, art, and technology — telling emerging stories via recording and distribution.
Andrew O'Keefe
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Discussion — 48 Responses

  • horseshoe7 March 18, 2016 on 11:01 am

    It’s pretty obvious, that to be successful (maybe even viable) in tomorrow’s robot-centric workforce economy, one will need to have either:

    1) A steady retirement income (the short refers to “30’s retirement communities”),
    2) Be an owner (or at least part-owner) of a company making and managing the robot workers.

    Hopefully, government will have a minimally-invasive role in this future (otherwise, government will steal so much we can never reach an abundance-based economy).

  • wildzbill March 18, 2016 on 12:19 pm

    If we manage to avoid destroying the planet, I see a future where everyone is able to totally customize their life, so that it pleases them completely.
    Some will sit on their butts being entertained for their entire extended life, while others will create at an astounding pace.
    If we achieve ubiquitous abundance, money will cease being as important. No one would be impressed by lavish spending, they would just ask “Why?”
    Or, we could collapse into squalor fighting over symbolic exchange tokens.

  • Ken Otwell March 18, 2016 on 2:17 pm

    Boring video. Well, the art was very engaging. But…. felt unfinished. It just stopped.

    As to the theme – haven’t we evolved beyond the Calvinist mindset yet? If there are no jobs, that means we’ve achieved peak productivity – we make everything we want or need without human labor. That means no shortage of anything that anyone could possibly want. That isn’t dystopia, that’s paradise.

    • chronofish Ken Otwell March 23, 2016 on 6:48 pm

      How does the transition work? Who’s peak productivity? Why does Apple suddenly decide that their robotics factory no longer needs to respond to consumer pressure and simply hands it over to some government for the greater good? And when it does, what motivation is there to improve? Without competition and pressure innovation plummets.

      • ResearcherGuy chronofish March 24, 2016 on 9:53 am

        The transition works the same as it always has. Lack of demand reduces prices and in this case, perpetually to the point that the money becomes too small to account for. While this is happening, the human labor requirement is falling as well, leaving only those with a non-monetary passion to work the industry as a hobby. Think of the devoted CEO and production director still coming in to conduct the concert of robots.

        If the end game of that product is surviving, then this is where it ends or those last two hobby jobs get automated.

        If the end game of that product is to get displaced by a substitute industry, then they simply fade away.

        For whatever remains, there will always be people with a passion to create, build or promote something that others want or need. And after money goes irrelevant, those rare remaining needs will be filled by people the do so for the fulfillment of it. After all, what could the open-source modular phone groups do with the resources of a company like Apple? Those guys are ‘arguably’ competing with Apple now and doing so from bootstrap budgets and no pay! Just look at the Firefox browser, Wikipedia, the Robotics Operating System sphere, the maker and 3D printer movements. They are humanity’s highest source of innovation and they all exist because of hobby passion.

        That’s how it works if we have everything aligned well enough for things to go smoothly. See my comment below for alternatives.

  • Michael Berger March 18, 2016 on 3:40 pm

    Need to look BEYOND capitalism. You can NOT have an economic model based upon exchange value: got dollar pay for food and rent. Robotics destroys capitalism.
    The evolution is communism. Elimination of private property. Common ownership of the means of production. The authors can not see the nose on their faces. Marx….more relevant today than ever.

    • horseshoe7 Michael Berger March 18, 2016 on 5:48 pm

      Sooner or later, you socialists/Marxists/Communists run out of other people’s money (and, in this case, robotic production)… thievery will eventually get you nowhere, no matter what age you live in.

    • Patru Bogdan Michael Berger March 20, 2016 on 1:59 am

      I truly hope you are living in a communist country. Otherwise, you will be just an imbecile clown. Every single communist nostalgic spews his stupidities from the comfort of a capitalist countries. Pretty hard to take you serious, isn’t it?

      • Quantium Patru Bogdan March 20, 2016 on 2:44 am

        The problem seems to me to be the fact that capitalism and communism can’t live side by side and let people vote with their feet. Communism only works by revolution or conquest and theft. No wonder it is easy to get heated when discussing it.

        It can be seen that capitalism is absolutely brilliant at organising the production of things, cars, computers etc. Efficiency is rewarded by greater return for the investors.

        It is less clear cut that capitalism is the best system for providing health care or legal administration. If the latter is regarded as a system to obtain truth, the results are skewed by the money motive and therefore it is flawed. The more inefficient a law firm is, the more money it makes. In health care, “the system” (hospitals and pharmaceutical companies) is rewarded by keeping patients stressed and sicker for longer, even though individual practitioners are not motivated by these considerations.

        Any economic system needs to optimise efficiency to get the desired result. Both capitalism and communism have their strengths and weaknesses. It is not a case of one size fits all.

      • Michael Berger Patru Bogdan March 26, 2016 on 4:37 am

        Communism is a economic model. Base is upon production without labor. Wikipedia. Not theory.

        • Russell Hajek Michael Berger March 31, 2016 on 9:27 am

          I hear you Michael. I’m a long time pro Capitalist, neo Conservative. But the future is rushing towards us and it doesnt seem that Capitalism will be part of it.

          3 years ago I would have been one of the harshly negative responders to your comment. But people will come around as the reality continues to hit.

          I like to put the issue this way: WHO ARE CAPITALISTS GOING TO SELL TO WHEN EVERYTHING IS AUTOMATED?

          I say we need universal income in order to SAVE CAPITALISM. Give every person $20K a year with no stipulations. Then offer more money for other socially beneficial activities. Going to school – get another $5k a year (school free). Patent a better battery – get $10k prize. Our reputations or online profiles will earn more the stronger they get. Eventually reputation points alone could become the currency and everything we do could earn reputation points.

          In my mind, money still exists so that consumers can still drive and reward better designs.

          We would all have nice free homes, free Uber, free energy but if we want a better property, a personal car or personal services (massage, companionship) we could earn and spend money.

          • Michael Berger Russell Hajek March 31, 2016 on 1:15 pm

            Russell. Understanding the contradiction of production without human labor has created the global crises of capital. The problem with social democracy (Bernie for example), is it does nothing to eliminate the drive to war. The pentagon is the largest recipient in the budget (factoring in black ops, homeland etc. War and seizing of markets is what drives conquest. If you want a sustainable planet and the elimination of war, you need to deal with the 1%.

    • chronofish Michael Berger March 23, 2016 on 6:31 pm

      You may be right…. But it is capitalism that is driving us towards a robotics/automation driven economy. Without capitalism there is no pressure or need to innovate. On the contrary communism seeks to keep humans as the robots – employing them, not to build towards prosperity but to simply keep them employed. Similarly unions have raised against the machine and machines for years – for fear of job loss and by extension money and power – even when doing so harms the very people they propose to protect.

      Lack of a capitalistic system doesn’t squelch human greed or desire to compete. Entrepreneurs and those with business acumen will continue to find ways to be one step ahead of others and will demand “something” in return for their work and invention.

      How exactly does this transition to the Marxist Utopia happen? I don’t see it. The investment in engineering and automation has been owned by companies who want to be more productive and efficient. At what point do they suddenly say “okay…take our years of work and investment because we are now one big happy family?” How does this transition work with out revolution? And with revolution how do you promise prosperity when you’re systematically destroying their motivation?

      I’m hopeful our AI overlords can figure this out without enslaving the human race

  • Doug New March 18, 2016 on 3:52 pm

    The New Paradigm: Working for expression, not income. This is The New Dawn. Tech provides the freedom from the necessity to work for a living. New Meaning is in mining our imaginations to express our deepest desires.

    • chronofish Doug New March 23, 2016 on 6:56 pm

      That only works for a fraction of the populous. In this technical communistic utopia, the every-man is more restricted than ever. Before there was at least a system for which he could work to improve his life…in the system you propose the creative elite rule and the everyone-man doesn’t even has a system that could be worked if had the motivation to do so….

  • Ivars Ivanovs March 18, 2016 on 4:27 pm

    But Think about this…
    Why Do You work. Why do You have to work.
    You don’t.
    If So called Machines would replace Our Work Force. Men-Women Would’t need to work.
    There Would be Plenty of Food. Free education. So People Would Just be able to Live and enjoy Life
    It’s the Mass Controlling Corporations Than are Forcing us Work For Them so They Could Stay in Power.
    So they Make and produce false dreams and Ideas that are pot in US. so that we would stay the way we are.

    If everything can be Made with Machines. In Fast Simple way. So that we shouldn’t do any thing.
    We shouldn’t work.Worry or Starve. There would be just Peace and Constant Progresses of our Minds and Knowledge. Now that’s Peace and Harmony.

    • horseshoe7 Ivars Ivanovs March 18, 2016 on 5:52 pm

      You underestimate the treachery of the government/socialist mind – these meddling thieves are the impediment to achieving abundance thru automation.

    • Michael Berger Ivars Ivanovs March 19, 2016 on 3:00 am

      Need to abolish private property

    • chronofish Ivars Ivanovs March 23, 2016 on 6:42 pm

      Maybe… but it goes against human nature. Maybe not yours, or what you deem appropriate…but human nature never-the-less. There will always be people who want to improve the current system, work hard to do so – and then expect compensation (money, responsibility, power) in return.

      Who owns these magical machines? The very “system” that you claim to be holding the “everyman” down is the same “system” that will be responsible for bringing you the magical machines. Are you suggesting that you’ll use capitalism to bring about the automation revolution but do away with it once it’s here? Good luck with that….

      • Michael Berger chronofish March 24, 2016 on 4:21 pm

        Here is the contradiction. When the mode of production changes, the social structure must and will change also. As more work is eliminated, more and more of humans are thrown into the streets. The need to criminalize poverty is well underway. The question rises. Why starve when the food is readily available? The moral question of the day is placed front and center for all to see. This is why the vision of Bernie is resonating. On the ownership of the means of production. How can the 1% rule, when they refuse to provide shelter, food, healthcare and education to a growing mass of the population? They will not sustain those that they will never again be able to exploit. Here is the question: why does post capitalist society have a need for money. Money was created to facilitate exchange.

  • Andrew Atkin March 18, 2016 on 9:51 pm

    They got the cars nearly right, but not the setting.

    Life will be a garden city, to the extreme.

    Humanity will move to the very best locations, as we realise that there’s nothing much else to buy but a beautiful home in, more importantly, a beautiful temperate setting.

    A did a post on this a while back:

    http://andrewatkin.blogspot.co.nz/2013/04/the-remarkable-mega-cities-of-future.html

  • Quantium March 19, 2016 on 3:36 am

    People who win large sums of money on lotteries, or as a result of selling successful businesses, or long term stock investment after studying future trends on sites such as this, can be used as models for this sort of existence. Of course some take to drink or debauchery, but others lead profitable lives, even though socialists, nationalists and so on may not consider such lives profitable to the “common good” whatever that really is.

    What I suspect may really happen is the people who enjoy power over others will create a whole swarm of compliance jobs as a sort of stealth tax to “redistribute” wealth. People will be doing the financial equivalent of running around in circles or jumping on the spot for a couple of hours each day.

  • brianwsnyder March 19, 2016 on 5:21 am

    Society will become comprised of Eloi and Morlocks. H.G. Wells saw this coming a long time ago.

  • StefanBraam March 19, 2016 on 6:27 am

    If you like this look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU too.

    I am worried about the have / have-not divide that the future will create. I think if the differences -between people who are only able to adapt to a lineair world and those adapted to an exponential world- become to big, this will result is some serious social problems.

    • Quantium StefanBraam March 19, 2016 on 8:08 am

      Democracy has the effect of electing administrations that can favour the masses at the expense of (rather than as well as) the few. If the “exponentials” are a few, then there could indeed be trouble. Again, this is why the Singularity University discussion lists are valuable — they add to the ranks of those who learn to adapt to the exponential world.

      • Michael Berger Quantium March 19, 2016 on 2:21 pm

        Abolish private property. The means of production….robotic production…must be commonly owned. Distribution will conform to labor less production..Distribution will be without money. Currency is a relic of “have dollar, can buy milk”. The milk has no value, as it is produced with robots.

        • Quantium Michael Berger March 19, 2016 on 3:24 pm

          Presumably robots other than cows. I wonder if it is the physical distribution of milk (and other products) that will still require an economy. Or maybe everything will be decentralised. However if people are living in mega-cities, they won’t have room for fields of grass each to be grazed by cows, animal or mechanical. Nano machines to make food from elements in the air? No calcium there.

          • Florian_L Quantium March 21, 2016 on 6:19 am

            We have everything we need by recycling atoms.

        • chronofish Michael Berger March 23, 2016 on 7:16 pm

          What is the value of the arts, sports, and entertainment? How does their work get compensated? People will continue to do bad things, governments will continue to need to be functional… how do those workers get compensated? There are numerous professions that won’t be replaced by robots or AI. Not that they couldn’t be, but many people want to communicate with other real people. How do the customer services get compensated?

  • Robert Charles March 20, 2016 on 12:58 pm

    The issue will be resolved by wars. Westerners are in control of the world. And Westerners are not smart enough to peacefully figure out this question of resource allocation. Our track record over the past few hundred years makes that clear.

  • ResearcherGuy March 20, 2016 on 1:20 pm

    The author asks, “What do you think?”

    My answer is that the last 2 years worth of this discussion has sounded like the horse-centric world repeatedly predicting cars will change so much – like stables will be cleaner and live horses will only pull light loads.

    In other words, they’re all so shortsighted in discussing just the tip of the future iceberg. There is so much more to discuss but those of us who see it can’t even find suitable debate counterparts. However, this time around, we’re already behind the 8-ball because we’ll see the last century’s advancement occur in just the next decade. As such, I’d like to move quickly through the givens and jump into the real debate.

    Given

    Automation of machines and processes have, for a century, caused exponential reduction of paid jobs while also linearly creating more paid jobs. That exponential number has been so low for a century that it’s been discounted until recently. The reduction passed the growth in the 70’s and we hid it with fluff jobs until ’08. Now it’s killing about 10% more jobs than the linear growth of new jobs (albeit many are still trying to hide it with more fluff jobs again).

    In the next 5 years, the real employment rate will fall more than our social structures can handle and the decade after, it will fall to below 20% of the current work force. This is in line with the 2030 predictions of half of today’s jobs being displaced.

    In 5 years, we’ll begin the point where all social, political and economic systems break down because so many families no longer have the means to earn their living.

    Also in 5 years, we’ll see the commercial emergence of ‘magic boxes’, a term I coined for a one-time purchase that fully disrupts a lifetime of “rent”. (Electric bills equate to rents while solar equates to a magic box.) These also have all the usual good qualities like being cheaper per month (for the payments vs the original bill), clean, green, sustainable, as local as possible and usually offering better benefits than the original. These boxes will cover every need we have and most wants as well, and do it all without beholding to any major corporation. Gone will be any monthly bills other than payments to magic box loans for those who opt for them.

    In 10 years, magic box payments will be half that of the rent it disrupted. As such, they will strain supply. Price of these disrupting magic boxes will balance between what can be created and how much they undercut the original rent. This will strain the level of automation that can be built and then encourage more jobs but by then the majority of robot manufacturers will be automated too – again linear vs exponential.

    In 15 years, we’ll see the costs of living a median lifestyle fall to today’s poverty levels. This will have permeated into developing countries but not enough yet to make a difference.

    Major industries will be disrupted as well as geographical areas being impacted unequally. This will cause boom here and bust over there. Social systems will see this as a problem well before 5 years from now. In 10 years, if not fixed, it would destroy all of civilized society.

    In short, we need to economically balance the shift is where employment is going as well as the overall reduction of it… and we need to begin immediately. Any solution must account for the end game in which all paid work is gone, ever task is either volunteer or automated, capitalism fails to work, all money vaporizes and life returns to being about wonder and creativity, passion and compassion.

    In that system, money has lost its value because it is no longer needed to survive or even to live well. This mimics the definition of deflation in the extreme. As such, we need a financial system that allows this to infiltrate the economies without wreaking havoc. We need to toss the debt-based monetary system. Fortunately, this is happening through Bitcoin, et al. Unfortunately, it’s moving far too slow.

    We also much account for the transition period prior to reaching this state. During this time, some will become rich while others become impoverished. Those already poor will struggle to make any gains. We need a system where the most needy receive some of the benefit afforded to those benefiting from this new era. Basically, we need to tax robot labor and pay a welfare or unemployment to the masses. Unfortunately, that’s politically impossible. Fortunately however, there is another way of looking at that statement which does make it pallet-able. Re-written, we need a transaction tax funding a basic income.

    Most informed people today are familiar with these terms so I’ll dispense with explanations. In short, it is going to take official policy makers more than 5 and possibly 10 years to get to that point. But we don’t have that kind of time. We need to begin a solution today so that it gets refined and working within 5 years.

    As such, we really need a rapid and privately implemented, global transaction tax funding a basic income via a digital currency.

    My proposal for today’s debate:

    I propose to enlist the Bitcoin crowd to create a new aspect to their voluntary transaction fee and distribute it daily to each verified unique human with a Bitcoin account. This alone would create a single system to satisfy all of the above requirements.

    The technical details are short. There needs to be a way of using 2-5 different bio-metric one-way hashed, metrics to allow a human to validate an account is theirs while also guaranteeing they have no duplicates. Standard recognition and crypto stuff unless retina or vein scanners are included, then it costs a bit more. Beyond that, the algorithm to process a payment needs to divert 1% of every transaction to a general fund account. Then, daily at 00:00 GMT, this daily account needs to be dispersed equally to each person’s account, up to a maximum of 1 BTC/day. Rounding errors round down with the balance remaining for the next day.

    The result would be a backlash by the Bitcoin community until they saw the exponential growth of membership. People would rush to create the verification equipment so they could sign up others for these free-money accounts. Prior to any members, the daily amount just built up, creating incentive to go after it. Then, as people did sign up, the massive fund would quickly settle into a rather small amount per person. Based on today’s transactions, it would be around 20 cent’s worth per day per person.

    At that rate, no new wealthy people would have incentive but the equipment would exist to sign up the poorest 2 billion people. So these people begin to sign up their entire families. A family of 7 living on $2/day now would receive the equivalent of $1.40 more each day. They would quickly spend this money, causing Bitcoin commerce to grow in their area. All additional commerce is also paying the 1% fee so the daily dividend grows faster than the membership. This is because of the large multiplier effect of paying the poorest people who spend the money immediately.

    So, as the membership grows in the poorest communities, they get the most benefit first. This is enhanced by Bitcoin being deflationary with it’s dollar value constantly rising. The net effect is the rising of membership, acceptance by commerce, value, transaction volume and the raising of the living standards of the poorest people in the world first.

    This phenomenon results in a balance shift of a large portion of the global commerce from fiat money to digital. Wages, supplies, loans, savings, investment and other actions become commonplace in each community in the Bitcoin system and people begin to use it easier than the expensive fiat currencies with their high costs. Eventually, even automated companies will begin to do their business in this currency as more vendors call for it.

    In summary, this becomes a self reinforcing movement.
    It is based on a deflationary currency without debt.
    It supports the poorest of the world the most and earliest with a basic income that’s pegged to the daily transactions.
    It is not dependent on labor or the corporate taxes that couldn’t find enough loopholes.
    It is funded equally by all transactions regardless of purpose, even reaching into the black market transactions.
    It is small enough to have no impact on productive transactions.
    It is a deterrent to monetary games that rely on multiple transactions with small profits.
    It favors direct investment as opposed to brokered deals with multiple transactions.
    It will automatically grow in proportion to the level of crisis from technological unemployment.
    It’s value will rise in proportion with the failure of the fiat currencies.
    It has no controlling entity influencing any of these factors, especially if full abundance undermines money’s use altogether.

    I look forward to questions and comments. -Todd McKissick [last]@ gmail

    • Quantium ResearcherGuy March 20, 2016 on 3:19 pm

      I wonder if Solarcoin is helpful here. http://www.solarcoin.org It relates to the solar PV “magic box”.

      • ResearcherGuy Quantium March 22, 2016 on 12:53 pm

        Interesting new coin. But I doubt it benefits for it to be tied to any commodity. In fact, it might hurt it. All the currency needs is to be decentralized and deflationary. And then there’s the biggest factor supporting it to work well – that being that it’s already popular enough to have a fair amount of trust. I think Bitcoin is the only candidate there so far.

  • Deniz Öner Örsel March 21, 2016 on 12:36 am

    I think the future is not for us but for a collective set of AI harnessing resources to expand the entity so that singularity could form in the cell aka universe.

    We have come this far and it is almost our time. We may not be present as we are in the future and it is hard to digest because of our big egos but it is just part of evolution and it is impossible to stop it now without destroying everything as we gathered with our intelligence (stimulated by third parties).

    The video however, is representing the transition period which I did not find inspirational or whatsoever. Matrix cartoon collection was much more inspiring.

  • louisrhodes March 21, 2016 on 5:39 pm

    This almost seems like capitalist propaganda. The sociopaths of corporations dread the day they do not control, or at least are able to guide the mass populations actions to maintain power.
    If greed and selfishness can be left behind, the takeover of robotics will be an amazing time to be alive as people won’t have to spend almost the entirety of their lives working for money and social worth.
    Of course there will be differences in lifestyle, some will choose to do nothing but intoxicate themselves, others will do nothing but watch vr and some will study of their own accord (along with other hobbies) but in this age freedom to do as you please will be at its peak and hopefully the larger part of humanity will choose to use their time productively instead of destructively. Maybe we’ll have to wait as the next part of our evolution manages that…

    • chronofish louisrhodes March 23, 2016 on 7:45 pm

      it’s one thing to villainize corporations… It’s another thing to expect human nature to suddenly change because of robots. It won’t. People will still be greedy and competitive. Black markets will still exist. And people in the service industry will still need a way to be compensated.

      You desire humans to be “productive” but what does that mean when you have everything you need and no motivation (money or other compensation) to drive innovation. “I would love to deploy my time saving apparatus… maybe when I get back from fishing….and if not then, maybe next week….”

      I find it ironic hat everyone on this thread is damning “those evil capitalistic corporations”…. The very corporations that are being innovative and creative and bringing the coming automated revolution that everyone here seems to giddy about.

  • Mihir Thakur March 25, 2016 on 11:11 am

    How about a pair of gloves that can empower human hands in precision, strength and art and of cource it is well connected with mind. Technology is still far from that. Robots draw strength from collective knowledge but individual genius is yet to be unlocked by technology. Keep inventing, no dooms day yet.

  • Matt Thurmond March 25, 2016 on 1:48 pm

    Enjoyed the article. A few points.

    First, machines taking over human jobs is nothing new and has been occurring in a big way for a very long time. Warren Buffett’s 2015 annual letter had a great section on U.S. productivity gains that I’d recommend reading. See page 21:
    http://www.berkshirehathaway.com/letters/2015ltr.pdf

    In it, he describes how several industries had ongoing technological and process innovations, and therefore, required far fewer humans to achieve the same amount of output. In 1900, 40% of the U.S. workforce worked in farming. Then came the tractor, a machine which is now very advanced, digitized, and able to cover hundreds of acres in a single day. A host of other innovations followed: GMO seeds, better tillage practices, more powerful sprays and fertilizers, to name a few. Today, less than 2% of the workforce works in farming and since 1900, there are 8 million fewer farm jobs. Aside from the farming example, you can also see how the railroad industry has increased output per human (as measured in ton-miles) by 20x, and employs one-seventh of the labor. These are huge productivity gains, which led to major job losses in their respective industries.

    Second, the examples above show that advancements that increase human output and displace jobs have not caused sustained high unemployment rates in the U.S. because, to date, other job opportunities have arisen to fill the gaps. We wouldn’t, for example, have wanted to keep 40% of our workforce in farming just to have maintained these jobs. Instead, many of those would-be farmers are now in medicine, finance, hospitality, technology, architecture, and every other industry you can think of. Increased productivity per human – a big cause of which was job displacing technologies – is actually what has caused the majority of the world to live much better than it was living in 1900.

    Third, I don’t think the situation going forward (i.e. next 100 years) will be fundamentally different from the past (i.e. labor will be displaced by tech and other advancements, but the workforce will adjust). I think the rate of technology-based labor displacement is increasing but the rate of adjustment is also increasing – see 3 month software development bootcamps like HackReactor as an example of this.

    It’s also true that the technological tools displacing labor are getting more powerful, but they are still for narrow applications (i.e. rigid, local A.I.) and require humans to be trained to utilize them (i.e. a $500k self-steering John Deere tractor still requires a human operator to handle a multitude of tasks and special conditions). And even when these technologies do fully eliminate jobs, like online file storage systems (i.e. Google Drive) eliminating the need for file room workers, there are many other non-related opportunities for a human to pursue. Humans can see, hear, be creative, handle unforeseen circumstances, have complex motor controls, emotional intelligence, and can do a variety of other things that machines can’t ye do, which means that humans will continue to be able to find employment even amidst powerful technological advancements.

    Fourth, what would have to happen for mass unemployment, like that shown in the video? A machine that has human-level hardware with general A.I. that’s as economical as human labor. So this ‘human replacer’ would need to be a low cost general A.I. ‘brain’ that is at least as smart, emotionally intelligent and creative as humans, and that has the hardware to see, hear, move, and have fine motor skills. Even if we create this machine, it will likely be way more expensive to build and maintain than a human for a very long time, so it would only replace a small fraction of human labor.

    As a final point, I think building such a general A.I. ‘human replacer’ is a very long way away, like hundreds of years or more. It’s certainly up for debate but folks like Paul Allen, Noam Chomsky, and others make good points about how the law of exponential returns is not always the best and only lense to view the timeline of these advances on – they require giant, unpredictable leaps that may or may not lead to an economically feasibly, hardware-infused general A.I.

    • ResearcherGuy Matt Thurmond March 26, 2016 on 2:58 am

      You make numerous good points. However, you make a classic mistake in your analysis. In an effort to choose if robots will eliminate every job, you fail to consider how many jobs it will eliminate. After all, we can tolerate losing 10% of jobs in existing areas, especially if we create 10% more new types of work. What is happening though is more like losing 80% of jobs (leaving the 2% to farm that you cite) and then only gaining 10% more new types of work. That’s not quite going to cover the losses.

      The reason this is happening is fairly simple. There’s less and less supporting infrastructure needed for each new technology. Think back to the creation of the auto industry. There were 100 supporting industries needed for cars to become as viable as they are today. And many of those industries are as large or larger than the manufacture of cars themselves. The road industry as just one example, required a national movement to complete.

      Then later, the phone industry needed telephone poles and strings of wire.

      Then the satellite TV industry (the big ones of the 80’s), needed dish installers.

      Then the cell phone industry needed genius bars.

      Then Whatsapp and Instagram needed nothing.

      Then the maker movement and 3D printer generation didn’t even create jobs that were mandatory, only a few opportunity jobs.

      Today, a person could buy a single online computer and pretty much do everything necessary to run a multi-national corporation from inception to disruption from their home office.

      The point is that it’s the supporting jobs that actually created so many jobs a century ago and now that that’s gone, each new job basically removes 1.2 old ones. Next year, that will be 1:1.25. By 2023, that will be 1:1.5.

      And this isn’t even counting on the AI’s yet which you also underestimate. Those systems really don’t have to gain full human intelligence when each piece can be broken down and applied separately. All the pieces you cite as still impossible now or 100 years out have been done. They just haven’t been put together. So, go ask how long that process took for the quad-copter industry to coordinate a dozen sub-technologies into one tiny computer. A few months. That’s how long.

      So, the long story here is that jobs definitely are going away faster than they’re being created. When we use honest numbers (the formula of 1930), the Great Depression hit 25% and we’re now over 16%. By 2023 or so, we’ll top the 25% and by 2025, we’ll top 30%. And because those new automated systems actually are cheaper than humans, by 2030-2035, we’ll top 50%.

      In other words, it’s past time right now to find a solution to the impending failure of our economy that’s based on growth which can’t happen. For a primer, see my long post above.

  • Michael Berger March 25, 2016 on 4:43 pm

    In reality….the world has entered into a sphere of social revolution. This is due to the introduction of the robot and artificial intelligence…..

    Small quote from Economic Manuscript…Critique of Political Economy..F Engles:

    In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness.

    The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.

    At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or — what is but a legal expression for the same thing — with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.

    Then begins an epoch of social revolution. With the change of the economic foundation the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic — in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge of such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained rather from the contradictions of material life, from the existing conflict between the social productive forces and the relations of production.

    No social order ever perishes before all the productive forces for which there is room in it have developed; and new, higher relations of production never appear before the material conditions of their existence have matured in the womb of the old society itself. Therefore mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely, it will always be found that the tasks itself arises only when the material conditions of its solution already exist or are at least in the process of formation.

  • slw2014 March 25, 2016 on 6:05 pm

    This is an absolutely gorgeous animation but I find it neither compelling nor convincing, as it presupposes static human needs and desires. As with any major technological advance such levels of automation would indeed put many and perhaps even most of today’s workers out of a job. But it would also undoubtedly open up entirely new markets and new enterprises not even conceivable with today’s levels of human productivity. In this future a single human being would be capable of creating and producing what today might require thousands if not millions of individuals. Which would lead to products and services of a scale and complexity that we can scarcely imagine today. So, yes, perhaps machines will take 50% of our jobs in the next 30 years. But, then, there will be so much more to do.

    • ResearcherGuy slw2014 March 26, 2016 on 3:03 am

      Maybe you’re right. If so, the net jobs per population is going to be half and then maybe 10% of what it is now. So since you’re comfortable with “so much more to do” as an answer, are you suggesting that this either won’t be a problem or that it’ll be solved in another way?

  • Michael Berger March 26, 2016 on 4:03 am

    What is being defined in general ………communism The boogie word…..an economic model based upon production without labor. Just check Wikipedia

  • InnovationFutureSpecialist March 29, 2016 on 5:18 am

    I think there will be three phases to our future technological development, and our attitudes and debate. These phases are: near future; near Singularity; and post Singularity.

    The near future will continue with the types of debates we see above. Often these are about capitalism versus communism. It’s a shame that most of these debates take radical bi-polar views and see everything just in black and white. There will also be suggestions that humans can create new jobs, in areas that AI cannot automate, so we don’t have to worry – after all we survived the industrial revolution, and overall it was beneficial.

    Near the Singularity, it will become obvious just what technology and, in particular, AI can do. At this point, if society and governments have not agreed suitable sustainable policies for national and global societies then people could start to become very anxious. Some of the arguments in the earlier above phase suggest that, like the industrial revolution, humans will always be able to create new jobs. However, in this phase it will become apparent that, soon, AI will do nearly all of the jobs we do, and do them much more efficiently! This is the glimmer of a new dawn in society, and it is radically different because for the first time we can see that: our intelligence will no longer be the dominant intelligence on planet Earth! We have to concede that there is a smarter kid arriving…

    Post Singularity, our debates might become increasingly irrelevant as AI exponentially accelerates its IQ level. We’ve all seen the sci-fi doom and gloom scenarios so I’ll not dwell on that possibility. Instead, hopefully, at this point governments and global society got its act together and put in place policies that gave every citizen of planet Earth a good equal and sustainable lifestyle. Within everyone pushed up to the top of Maslow’s pyramid [hierarchy of needs] we need only pursue things that satisfy our ego. That might be spending more quality time with people, being artistic and creative (just for fun and leisure), and following the amazing discoveries being made in science and technology (by AI of course). There will still be one thing humans can do better than AI and that’s human emotions*. This leaves us free to pursue lives that focus on things that really matter, and to stimulate positive emotions, and have a great quality of life.

  • InnovationFutureSpecialist March 29, 2016 on 5:28 am

    Note that I starred human emotions. This assumes that we agree to *not* give autonomous AI entities human emotions, because this might be unwise [given that not all of our emotions lead to positive outcomes]. Yes, it could be very beneficial for AI to *understand* our emotions [to help us become more positive, and less destructive] but it would be unwise [I suggest] for AI to be driven by human emotions.

  • Matthew Chang April 20, 2016 on 10:15 pm

    Jobless future is a pipe dream. Technologically it’s entirely feasible and possible, however, financially and economically this will never happen. When was the last time someone invented something really useful, and decided to give it to everyone to use for free?

    If nothing is free, how can everyone afford all these high tech gadgets without a way to make money?

    • Quantium Matthew Chang April 21, 2016 on 4:41 am

      I wonder whether recent press reports that people are working harder and longer hours, but productivity is falling have any bearing on this. It will be a bit like the “difficulty” of bitcoin mining increasing, only with conventional jobs.

      I was told the other day by a junior lawyer who had no secretary that a substantial part of her day was spent hanging onto a telephone where various government institutions were keeping her in a queue listening to music. Her productivity must be very low because of this idiocy. She was in an open planned office, so she couldn’t leave the telephone instrument on the desk whilst she did something else. Governments at least could solve this by insisting that their institutions use email. This queues the messages by not people.

      Companies that only use voice telephony to contact customers could be put on some sort of “telephone offenders register”. Potential customers can check this before buying anything from them. I suspect that such companies would soon alter their mode of business.