“The technocrats,” said New Zealand’s Thomas Beagle, “have a utopian view of our data driven future….
And the technocrats responded, “Yes! We promise.”
“The IoT [Internet of Things] revolution,” reported the Computer Business Review, “is expected to create millions of new job opportunities across the industry, especially for electrical professionals.”
Schneider Electric UK&I president Tanuja Randery concurred: “You can automate processes and create significant efficiency, but at the end of the day there is someone programming the algorithm or analysing the data - because the robots can't do it. We need 4.5 million developers for IoT alone, so I think anyone that does get made redundant will end up getting jobs elsewhere.”
And Marc Andreessen called the idea of a jobless future a “Luddite fantasy all the way through,” one that demonstrated a “failure of imagination” and a “lack of understanding of how economy evolves.”
But others weren’t so confident that out-of-work taxi drivers could readily transition to advanced algorithm programming. Stanford’s Vivek Wadhwa shut down the argument that every time we’ve had a technological tectonic shift we’ve all come out better off: “True, we are living better lives. But what is missing from these arguments is the timeframe over which the transitions occurred. The industrial revolution unfolded over centuries. Today’s technology revolutions are happening within years. We will surely create a few intellectually challenging jobs, but we won’t be able to retrain the workers who lose today’s jobs. They will experience the same unemployment and despair that their forefathers did. It is they who we need to worry about.”
While most occupied with one or the other extreme of utopia or apocalypse, there were those who sought the middle ground, those who recognized extreme disruption as inevitable, realized that the transition would not be easy, and began to explore ways in which society could transform alongside technology.
The city of Utrecht, in the Netherlands, fit this latter category. In the summer of 2015, they began experimenting with a minimum basic income: “Basic income is a universal, unconditional form of payment to individuals, which covers their living costs. The concept is to allow people to choose to work more flexible hours in a less regimented society, allowing more time for care, volunteering and study,” reports Louis Dore in The Independent.
Did it work? Did it help mitigate the severe impact of exponentially accelerating technology on the fundamental structure of our society? Or did we experience massive unemployment for blue- and lower status white-collar workers, while witnessing unquenchable demand for the aforementioned algorithmic programmers? Did this inequality lead to a rift in the social fabric, provoking global unrest and violence?
Those are great questions. What do you think happened?