A few observations.

Actual job - which fill directly and efficiently real human basic needs - are getting scarce, there is a surge of bullshit jobs, an accrual of complex and rhetorical organizations aiming at draining public and private money for, tapping those pools of money, creating employment.

The behavior of workers is more and more standardized, they are expected, not only to "do their job", but comply with an expected automatic behavior rulling out any kind of questioning or critical thinking. Functions are hyperspecialized, results strictly assessed by quantitative metrics - workers are supposed to behave like systems, which are programmed, fixed, controlled, and, whenever inefficient, discarded.

Many people want to escape large hierarchical structures and seek for freedom in making themselves independant freelancers. Freelance platforms gather collections of unitary workers who enter a fierce competition game, subjected to the compliance with a format - the form to be filled to register -, a language, an expected efficient commercial behavior, subjected to ratings and surveys filled from a potentially clueless public opinion. Such platforms gather and drain workers across all independent or liberal professions including medical doctors, lawyers, scientists etc. and develops new proletarians, paid by the task, interchangeable and reduced to their function.

If you agree with those premisses, how do you see the future of work ?

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    Sep 15 '21 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future" - Neils Bohr $\endgroup$ Sep 15 '21 at 17:03

Much more slowly than you think, because Market overrides Technology

Work is changing.

But this is not new. Work has been transformed (sometimes quite radically) over the last 150 years, mainly since the Industrial Revolution.

In this period, we have seen lots of manual labour supplanted by more tertiary functions. However, keep in mind that because we could be replaced by machinery, it does not follow that it is less costly to do so. This is why many manual jobs still exist - ie. Labourers on building sites, or even in car manufacturing, where a lot of components are still assembled by hand.

Even in the electronics industry, many don't realise that the majority of electric components (for instance, that go into a small toy remote controlled helicopter) are assembled by hand in a factory in Thailand. (There is a factory also in Thailand that is dedicated to making tiny solenoid coils 2.5mm in diameter, all done by women by hand in a huge warehouse).

Another example, even in the tertiary industries, like professional engineering, a lot of engineering work are still done by humans (only 'assisted' by computers). This is because, even though it is possible to have a computer replace an engineer, you cannot replace the 'trust' or the 'risk assumption' that engineer has (ie. you need someone to blame if it goes wrong), a uniquely human requirement. So - there are still engineers. Just as we would still have doctors, architects and lawyers.

This tells us market forces often override purely technological considerations. So although the future of work could be eventually replaced by automation and robots, sometimes the cost (and also demand) is not there to support it. The changes you are mentioning would be very gradual, if it happens much more at all.

  • $\begingroup$ The existence of many manual jobs is most certainly not a function of the expense of some replacement machine, but rather the replacement machine does not technically exist. Robotics still cannot accomplish what a typical human can with their hands and limbs. Instead, modern robots are highly specialized. Take for example an automotive tire shop. The human-simple task of installing new tires on a car would take no fewer than a dozen specialized robots. $\endgroup$
    – frеdsbend
    Sep 14 '21 at 17:12
  • $\begingroup$ @frеdsbend That's my point: It can Technically exist, but it makes no sense. You could drive a car into an auto shop, have sensors detect where it is and its position, robots to elevate it, robots to drive to the wheel and detach it, robots to collect a new one, robots to install it, robots to inflate and test it. However, this is ridiculous, no company would invest tens of millions of dollars for this system in lieu of paying a mechanic $15/hr to do it. Market forces override technology in many situations.The machines can technically exist, but no-one would want them. $\endgroup$
    – flox
    Sep 15 '21 at 4:24
  • $\begingroup$ Probably closer to billions in costs to develop that system, but I don't think some tasks are even developable at the moment. The finer motions humans can easily make with their hands is still a struggle for robotics. Even the more simple package delivery industry still can't make a robot that can navigate basic city terrain. Robotics lacking in advancement is the primary reason more manual jobs are not automated. $\endgroup$
    – frеdsbend
    Sep 15 '21 at 4:51
  • $\begingroup$ And the fact that companies do spend billions annually to try to develop these things exactly proves that economics is not the reason they don't yet enjoy widespread use. It's because they plainly don't exist. $\endgroup$
    – frеdsbend
    Sep 15 '21 at 4:57
  • $\begingroup$ Day to day nothing changes, but you wake up 10 years later and everything is different. $\endgroup$ Sep 15 '21 at 17:02

The behavior of workers is more and more standardized.

This is good news for an industrial society, but very bad news for a post industrial one like you are describing. Industrialization requires a population of people who can all think alike, and follow orders, and always do things by the book. Variance on a production line is a very bad thing, and the current model of education is aimed at eliminating variance. However, once most basic needs are meet through automation, having workers with standardized behavior is a TERRABLE idea. Once all of the basic and repetitive jobs are meet you need to come up with more and more complex and niche jobs that can not just be automated away. To create enough of these jobs to meet the needs of your population, you need to diversify your thinking.

What It would look like if society adapts

As the number of jobs plummets, the need for a more diversified education system emerges. The best way to meet this need is to go back to a 1 working parent model. Currently, the work force is too large, and standardized education is inhibiting society from being adaptable. To solve this, a large numbers of parents will need leave the work force and stay at home to homeschool their kids. The advantage of home schooling is that each student has a lot more say in what direction their education will go in. Industrial education looks at what a student is worst at and focuses on bringing that up so that they can continue to teach you in parallel with your peers, but individualized education looks at what a student is best at and pushes that skill to its extreme. So instead of a population of roughly equivalent jack-of-all-trades, you get a population of exceptional specialists. These specialists will be able to create and fill niches that technology either can not automate, is not worth automating, or can not automate as well.

Instead of working at the local mega-mart's deli selling the same few meats and cheeses day in and day out, you might spend years studying the art of Charcuterie uniquely qualifying you for identifying the exact blend of meat and cheeses that would suit each of your client's pallets, or instead of working a factory line making cellphone cases by the millions, maybe you've spent years developing software that allows you to photograph people and 3-d print their faces as custom cell phone cases... so on and so forth...

What's more is that specialists need outside consultants more often than generalists. A writer with no background in math is more likely to hire an accountant, a technician with no background in formal writing is more likely to hire a writer, and an accountant with no background in office software is more likely to hire a technician. In this way, specialization not only creates more odd jobs, but it creates more need for people to hire one another to fill odd jobs.

What happens if your society continues to standardize behavior

Your job market and wages will continue to shrink. Work becomes so cheap that everyone needs 3 or 4 jobs per household just to make ends meet, but in many cases there are not enough job openings to have anything at all. People will lack the self-motivation to start new businesses, and most of the new businesses will fail because entrepreneurs will lack the creativity to do stuff that is not already being done more efficiently by mega corporations. Because your people will become unable to take care of themselves they will turn to governments to provide more and more socialist programs to support them. Because they are forced to transition to socialism under duress, this means the government has tons of bargaining power over its people. This leads to people giving up thier basic human rights in exchange for food and shelter. If your are lucky, you end up with a dystopian socialist government... if you are unlucky, the economy will collapse faster than socialist programs can shore it up resulting in all those mega corporations that destroyed all the jobs going belly up leaving you with neither jobs, nor production resulting in a massive famine and lots of people dying.

  • $\begingroup$ I think it is a good answer. Although, I disagree with the implication that socialist programmes are incompatible with basic human rights. There are plenty of successful socialist programmes around the world that promote and strengthen human rights. Socialism does not have to be dystopian. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Sep 14 '21 at 18:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Otkin I agree that when Socialism emerges out of a strong economy, it does not atomically become dystopian, but when socialism is a reactive response to an economic depression, it is pretty much guaranteed. The difference is that a free strong economy chooses the terms of socialism allowing them to pressure the government into doing things thier way. But in a crumbling economy, the people must accept the terms of the government to survive; so, they must accept any concessions that come with that. It is not socialism itself, but the lack of other options that leads to the dystopia. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Sep 14 '21 at 20:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ But is it inevitable that a socialist government will seize the rights and freedoms of people? Is it inevitable that in a crumbling economy the government will attempt to limit the people and their agency? I am also not sure if the notion that people must accept the terms of the government to survive in a crumbling economy is correct. History is filled with revolutions, riots, uprisings, and political regime changes associated with and/or stemming from economic problems. $\endgroup$
    – Otkin
    Sep 15 '21 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin Exactly. Everything in the OP could have been said about society at the beginning of the 20th century as industrialization eliminated so many jobs that we went from a agricultural economy to a factory based one. The result was the Communist revolution in Russia and elsewhere in the world. Now a century later and we somehow have more jobs than people. $\endgroup$ Sep 15 '21 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ I don't think anyone in the 19th century could have predicted that! In fact, they predicted exactly the opposite which is why I'm skeptical of anyone that thinks they know the future: theguardian.com/business/2008/sep/01/economics $\endgroup$ Sep 15 '21 at 17:10

I think the best way to try to predict the future is to look for historical analogies in the past. Sure, sometimes something totally new and unprecedented happens. But usually there is SOME analogy -- like something else that was totally new and unprecedented in a similar way. :-)

I've heard lots of dire warnings lately about how AI is going to destroy jobs and create massive unemployment. I doubt it. I saw a video a few years ago that warned that "in the next 5 years 60% of workers will be unemployed". Their proof was to list a bunch of jobs that they said would be replaced by robots or computers in the next few years. Like they predicted that truck drivers and taxi drivers would all lose their jobs to self-driving cars. Etc. They added up all these jobs that would be destroyed and it came to 60% of workers.

Well, according to the US Census, in 1850 over half of Americans were farmers. The 1860 census was the first time that farmers were less than 50%. Today they're about 3%. So does that explain why today we are struggling with 50% unemployment, because half the people lost their jobs to improved agricultural technology and so are now permanently unemployed? Except that's not what happened, is it? Someone who loses his job to new technology is not permanently unemployed. Most find some other job sooner or later. And their children and grandchildren are certainly not doomed to lifetime unemployment just because granddad lost his job.

The people who made that video were wildly overoptimistic about new technology. I think I can very safely say that self-driving cars (to use that as an example) are not going to put all the professional drivers in the world out of work in another 2 or 3 years. (They said 5 years and that was 2 or 3 years ago.) In real life, it's rare for a new invention to come along and be in mass production and universal use within a couple of years. These things take time.

And that's not a trivial side point. The fact that it takes time means that people have time to adapt. In real life, if a 100% practical self-driving car was invented tomorrow, that was better in every conceivable way over a human-driven car, it would still take some time before the inventors could turn it from a working prototype into something that can actually be produced at reasonable cost. It would take time to get government regulators to approve it. It would take time for factories to be built or reconfigured to produce them. And it would take time for the newly-built vehicles to replace ALL the current vehicles. (I haven't read anything about self-driving cars in a while. Maybe there is a truly practical prototype available now. But if so, I haven't seen any of them on the road in my neighborhood.)

In practice, self-driving cars will probably never replace all human-driven cars. Just like cars today have not 100% replaced horses. There are some specialized jobs for which a horse is better than a car.

In real life, new technology does not destroy jobs. It enables a smaller number of people to do the same amount of work. And it frees people to do things that are more productive.

That same video I mentioned tried to brush off the obvious comparison to the industrial revolution by saying that then people were able to move from manual labor jobs to more creative jobs, but with the AI revolution, there will be nowhere left for people to go. They solemnly intoned, "We cannot have a poetry economy."

But, umm, yes we can. Even if someday robots, computers, and AI get so advanced that all but the most creative tasks can be done by machine, and the only thing left that machines cannot do is write poetry, paint paintings, write novels, and the like, then ... that's what most people will do. And realistically, it will be millennia before we get to that point, if we ever do. We'll always need human beings to manage the machines, to invent new machines, to maintain the machines, etc. I don't think that the fact that I have a computer makes my job border on the superfluous. Yes, the computer is a big help in writing this post, I'd much rather write it with full word-processing capabilities than be typing it on a typewriter, or chiseling it into stone. But the computer isn't going to write the post for me.

** Reply to SurpriseDog **

I am 100% certain that any technology that resembles current robots and computers is not creative.

Yes, I've seen plenty of golly-wow articles like the one you cite. To say that someone programmed a robot to paint a painting does not make the robot creative. I'm a software developer. I can easily program a computer to write a poem. In the simplest sense, I could type a poem into the computer and have the computer type it back out. I don't suppose that you would say that "that poem was written by a computer" in any real sense. In a broader sense, I could make up rules for how the computer puts words together. I've written a few programs like that just for fun. I mean, I've written programs that string words together that almost sort of sound like they mean something, but which are really a lot of gibberish. Years ago I read an article in a computer journal about a program that took words from published articles in scientific journals, rearranged and strung them together in various ways, and spit out a fake "scientific journal article". The programmers then submitted these article to a bunch of journals and several of them were actually accepted for publication! The programmers thought it was hysterical.

To the extent that such a program produces interesting results, the creativity is again in the programmer who wrote the rules. The computer is not really inventing anything. Just like, if I type up a poem using an old-fashioned typewriter, you wouldn't say that the typewriter wrote the poem. You'd say that I wrote the poem using a typewriter. Indeed it's just like, if a carpenter uses a power saw and a drill to make a bookcase, you wouldn't say that the saw and the drill made the bookcase. You'd say that the carpenter made a bookcase using a saw and a drill. The computer is just a tool that the writer uses to help him express his creativity.

I don't know just what the programming is of this robot described in the article. Programming a computer to create abstract images would be trivial. I could do that easily. Just throw some random colors at random places on a canvas. I presume you'd want to put some constraints and rules on it so there's some pattern to it, but that would be easy. Programming a computer to take a photograph and make semi-random changes to colors and patterns would be more difficult but not fundamentally ground-breaking. I'm sure I could write something that would give amusing results with such a process if I worked on it for a few weeks or maybe months.

Building a robot capable of holding a brush and painting on canvas no doubt presented some interesting technical challenges, but that has nothing to do with the robot being creative. Just like programming a self-driving car to stay in its lane presents interesting technical challenges. Getting the robot to handle the brush and actually transfer the image from an internal JPEG file to paint on canvas would be the challenging part of this project. This would probably be useful to advance the technology of robots in general, but of itself of little value: a laser printer accomplishes the same thing with much simpler technology.

At some point could one say that, while the computer was built and programmed by human beings, it is now an independent intelligence exercising creativity? Maybe some day people will invent some true artificial intelligence, some machine that could legitimately be said to be a living thing or an independent mind, or at least that would raise serious questions about that. But if so, that would not be some extrapolation of present technology. It would be a very different thing.


This is a site for the creation of fictional worlds, e.g. for novels or games. There is a saying that adventure is someone else in trouble, preferrably long ago or far away. Nice worlds make for boring stories.

The dystopian view:

Human labor is increasingly computer-organized. Instead of a bookstore salesperson who chats with the customer, understands the needs, and recommends a book, you get a 'picker' gets told by a computer terminal to go to shelf 123-456-789, take the book which should be there, and to put it into a parcel. With the expectation that it should take no more than 57 seconds, and every step is measured. The necessary skills for the worker are to comprehend simple written instructions and to follow them without 'wasting' time on original thinking. And the moment a robot becomes cheaper, that worker is gone.

As long as there is a surplus of workers, and supplemental welfare system for working poor, employers can depress wages. What they pay doesn't have to be a living wage, it provides a little spending money on top of the basic living from the state. And any employer who does pay a decent wage is directly or indirectly providing the taxes to subsidize the workforce of a less exploitive competitior. A race to the bottom.

This is a very good setting for a cyberpunkish story.

The utopian view:

Stupid, repetitive tasks are increasingly automated. A thousand years ago, there were peasants reaping the grain with sickles, or scythes if there were lucky. A hundred years ago, combine harvesters entered the scene. Today driverless tractors are being developed. That can be a benefit for the workers if other, less dirty and more productive jobs become available.

The key question: is there a finite supply of jobs? I would say no, as long as society decides to organize itself to make these jobs happen. That process can keep up with the loss of stupid jobs, and the increasing productivity from automation can pay for it -- again if society decides to use the wealth that way.

  • How many websites are in serious need of a competent UX expert?
  • Are there enough engineers to make the next generation of cars even more efficient?
  • What is the perfect ratio of teachers to students in a school, and are we there yet?
  • What is the perfect ratio of nurses to elderly in a nursery home, and are we there yet?
  • Do we need more park rangers to take care of the last natural habitats?

All those jobs sound more fulfilling than reaping grain with a scythe. Some of them sound more fun than driving a harvester day after day. And if the productivity of machines gets taxed properly, society can afford them.

There is the question if every worker can re-train as an engineer or a teacher. Probably not. But how many of the kids at primary school today can become engineers when they grow up? A higher proportion than today, I'd say.

I'm not quite sure what kind of story to put into that setting. A murder mystery? Some sort of villain trying to wreck it?


So I hope this doesn't come across as too pessimistic - this view that we will be replaced by robots in the next few decades assumes constant upward progress - which is not a guarantee.

There very well could be major hurdles, whether it be a really bad economic recession, war, etc that get in the way of this.

Although a robot technically could replace me in a job like my current one, as a custodian, unless there is a big drop in the cost of the parts needed to make it, the school I work at probably won't replace me, or any human custodians for many decades.

However there are jobs that are at high risk. Jobs like cashiering that can be replaced with a screen. Jobs driving trucks or trains that can use self driving tech. Pilots I don't think will go away any time soon. Even though many things in a plane are automated, people like knowing someone in the cockpit is actually watching things.

So yeah, your assessment of many people going freelance with art, writing, filmmaking - or wanting to start a small business will be on the rise. Perhaps we will see many people turn to entrepreneurship, and then suddenly need a bunch of people to work in fields they create.

It will be complicated for sure, and many people will lose their jobs. If there is anything to keep in mind, it will be complexity. Regardless of your political feelings on things like Universal Basic Income, I have a hard time thinking that that will work everywhere.

So as a writer, I'd recommend looking at the problem on an individual level, rather than trying to predict larger societal trends - if you want to speak on this topic, then you might want to be careful making predictions too daring, as it could date the story.


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