In 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. In 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.