Future tech and work

It is a truism that technology is changing the world of work and will continue to do so. But a lot of media reporting is reductive, focusing on the simple “robots substituting for humans” narrative, and missing the more nuanced ways in which technology can replace, augment, alter and create jobs for people.

A new report by The RSA’s Future of Work Centre takes a more and broader considered view, wondering “What will the world of work look like in 2035?” The paper presents four scenarios of plausible future worlds, as a means of highlighting some of the key challenges and issues we should be thinking about over the next 16 years.

Once I had recovered from my realisation that in time we are as close to 2035 as we are to 2003, I was actually most drawn to the introductory section, which addresses the lack of a model for thinking about how technology impacts work. The authors put one forward for consideration, “A tech taxonomy”:

Automation, Brokerage, Management and Digitisation.

It is a rich and useful framework which more people should know about. The RSA should post it on their website, so I could link to it here.

However on reflection, at a risk coming off as a rose-tinted technologist, I propose a fifth pillar which I felt was missing: Creation. To acknowledge the new work that technology has enabled, from (for example) the huge growth of software development as a career, to the way the internet has made it easier than ever to start your own business, to the new work enabled by the gig economy. Not avoiding the imperfections of some of this creation – that sometimes this new work comes with automation elsewhere, that the economics don’t always work for the workers. But identifying these new opportunities, as well as those lost. Because if we don’t do that, technology will continue to be a source of trepidation, without excitement.

That being said, some trepidation is required. The RSA’s scenarios highlight some of the risks ahead. Let’s not mess this one up.