What will we be doing in the future – part 2

modern timesIn the last blog set out a case that with cleverer and cleverer machines there can only be increased mechanisation of ‘traditional’ jobs.  Also that these will not be restricted to basic manufacturing.  Now I know this is nothing new and that people have always objected e.g. the Luddites during the Industrial revolution.  However, new jobs were created, society adapted.  In that case we saw the rise of cities and towns as people moved out of the countryside to those new industries.  Some may argue that was not such a good thing and it certainly lead to slums, squalor and misery for many whilst a few became very rich.  But for better or worse we arrived at today’s society.

So I wonder if we are on the brink of a second industrial revolution, a fundamental shift in the way society runs.  I see parallels with that nineteenth century industrial revolution.  Where jobs we’ve perhaps taken for granted as ‘human’ jobs are now falling within the possibilities of machines and computers.  We are starting to see increased automation everywhere: any form of manufacturing, the railways, transport and delivery systems, even the advent of on-line shopping is part of this – no human needed.  Also, even if large numbers of people don’t want it, as the Luddites found out two hundred years ago, it is going to happen.  The difference this time, as I see it, is that it’s going to happen almost within a generation rather that over several generations.

As a science fiction writer I can only see this change continuing into areas where up till a few years ago we might have thought it impossible :  The financial markets, accounting, car servicing, buses, farming, planning, maintaining a golf course, medicine, almost anything you can think of.  I’m not saying no human intervention will be needed, well at least not for a while.  But it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to speculate on areas where eventually computers could take over, could design the robots and other computers / machines that will be needed.  OK, you can see where this is heading, a ‘doomsday scenario’ where our lives are ruled by machines.  I’m not saying that will happen, it is within our power to make sure it doesn’t.  But somewhere on that sliding scale from ‘today’s world’ to that ‘doomsday scenario’ lies what will, may, or could happen.  All a rich vein for the furtive imagination of science fiction writers.

However, no matter where we land up on that scale people will have to do something, won’t they?  People will have to paid, given money, so they can buy things, trade, pay other people, because that’s how our society works.

So apart from the privileged few who will (hopefully) be running things and the few that will be needed to oversee some of those traditional areas of employment now being done by machine:  What will the rest of us be doing?:

  • Well people always like to be ‘served’ by another human being.  And even now people pay more for an increased level of that service e.g. self service cafes compared to bistro coffees shops; shopping on-line for clothes compared to some small personal boutique.  But those sorts of jobs can’t account for everyone.  And not everyone will want to do them, at least not unless we change how we view them?
  • Teaching or anything that involves the passing on of skills.  Although there may be less skills needed to be passed on.  Even then as we get older it’s not difficult to imagine fewer human teachers being needed.  But surely we would always put young children with human teachers – wouldn’t we?
  • Craft and arts is an areas that surely would always be a human prerogative, at least at the top end.  But again this is for the few

So, those are just three possible areas – I’m sure you can think of more such as the media, news etc.  But the problem for me is that all these jobs are not going to employ everyone, even if everyone wanted to do these ‘jobs’.  So what does the future hold for the majority? Even as a sci-fi writer I’m struggling with this future society I’m painting.  1984In a third blog I’ll try and see how far I can take it.  The problem is there are so many possibilities.  But then that’s the beauty of science fiction.

When I began part one of this blog I didn’t realise what I’d started .  I would love to hear the your views on where we are all heading.

Ian Martyn

Author: Ian Martyn

Science Fiction Writer

2 thoughts on “What will we be doing in the future – part 2”

  1. All these things are reasonable areas of work when seen from the perspective of a developed society, and SF tends to assume that the human race is fully technological. The concepts of areas of work being taken over by computers/robots and the like depends on an advanced technology and the needs of an advanced technology. If one looks at the world today, it is only a small proportion of the planet to which that could be applied; you have a two speed global society, part being increasingly served by advanced technology, while the other remains strongly human work based. I do not see the former making much inroad into the latter. One area that will continue to be a necessity is food production for the non-technological part, and that will probably remain, with subsistence farming being the norm.
    I think part of the technological side is driving some back towards the more primitive side, with people finding greater benefit from doing things, rather than someone doing it for them. Are they running away? Perhaps so, but it is also the more educated/intelligent(?) that are taking that path. So we end up with a society of couch potatoes being fed trash visually, orally and probably orally, while the few are setting out to move to a more primitive, simpler lifestyle. How this develops eventually I do not know – but I am certain that those who believe in the simplicity of things will defend they part, and since they would be intelligent planners they would be more prepared and capable. Many of the things we today take for granted would be unnecessary, but arts and crafts, agricultural skills, basic medical knowledge etc. would be valued (and skills with non-technological weapons to defend the society). We do not need to flee the planet, but there is a need to adapt backwards (dedapt?).
    By the way, the machine in ‘Modern Times’ would never have worked, but I suppose an allegory for society does not need to.

    1. John, thanks for this. I agree that we tend to view things from our own perspectives. Having said some technology does trickle down e.g. mobile phones and the efforts being made to educate children in Africa in computors. So you never know the up and coming generation may find new uses for simple machines etc. As for backwards adapting, whilst we are still on one planet, I’m not so sure. History doesn’t seem to supoort this, except ironically perhaps those that can afford it (as with the Art Nouveau movement). Eventually though the pace of technological advancement seems to take over. In part 3), Monday I’ll do a bit more speculating and end on a hopeful note for the festive season. Thanks again.

If you have a view on this, let me know: