Work revolution: The haves and have-yachtsby Sally Blundell
How do we want to live in the brave new world of the future?
The future is here. Robotics, advanced life sciences, cybersecurity, data analytics, the “code-ification” of money and trust are already changing the way we live our lives. Are we ready? Is this what we want?
In Digital vs Human, English author, lecturer and futurist Richard Watson casts a more evaluative eye on how we might live, and how we might want to live, in an increasingly digitised and automated world. Without such discussions, he suggests, the outlook is grim. Already the internet has become a playground for cyberbullying, trolling and misogyny. Our hyperconnectivity, our reliance on social networks, including the “personal performance platform” that is Facebook, is affecting our social structures, health, happiness, privacy.
He charts the rising tide of narcissism, exhibitionism, hatred and loneliness that results from a life led in full public view in a room of one’s own. As our social and commercial lives are increasingly conducted online – funeral services can now be live-streamed as a “cost-effective” option for mourners too busy to attend in person – our interpersonal skills, our attention spans and our capacity for abstract reasoning and creativity are all being undermined, “when these skills are exactly what we’ll need to compete against the machines tomorrow”. As we glance over headlines, retweet the tweet, file the lecture notes, true knowledge – the capacity for deep reflective thought – is being replaced with what Watson calls “knowledge of the zeitgeist”.
A panicky luddite voice? Watson quotes Socrates’ dire warning that reading, instead of remembering, would erode knowledge. But automation and digitisation will continue “because we are obsessed with an unholy trinity of speed, convenience and efficiency”. The benefits for business, health, education and those in the world’s “frontier economies” are vast, but they will also bring a loss of jobs and a growing gap between the “haves and the have-yachts”.
He says some jobs will remain secure: those that require us to “understand, inspire or connect with other human beings”. Watson lists teachers, nurses, doctors, poets, artists, film-makers, craftspeople, fiction writers, psychologists and the clergy.
“Our next generation of school-leavers should be taught things machines cannot do: to ask questions, think creatively, act empathetically” and enter a much-needed conversation on what we as a society require of machines in relation to human well-being.
As he says, digital technologies should be used to enhance human thinking and relationships, not replace them. Automated jobs should be replaced with secure and meaningful work elsewhere, including for the “less talented, the less skilled, and the less fortunate”. Families and businesses should encourage tech-free days and holidays. Schools should re-evaluate the importance of technology in the classroom. Tech giants should be made to respect regulations, allow unions and pay their full and proper taxes.
“We must open up a broad discussion about what’s acceptable and what’s not in the context of automation, and ensure that human dignity and respect are never crushed in the rush for convenience, affordability or narrowly defined aspects of value.”
Follow the Listener on Twitter or Facebook.
The National Party is calling the u-turn on a capital gains tax a massive failure for the Prime Minister.Read more
The TV network is switching things up - again.Read more
The Wall may be speculative fiction, but it feel like it's just round the corner.Read more
If we find that up to 10% of people report insomnia after taking Panadol, does that mean it was a side effect of the drug?Read more
Talk of a capital gains tax hits a particular nerve, but changing the tax system doesn’t always have to be like pulling teeth.Read more
Money worries have set off a wave of populist politics in most Western democracies, but not here. Pattrick Smellie investigates why.Read more