Excerpt from Chapter 1
The World of Work
“There’s nothing more fundamentally disruptive to the status quo than a new reality.”
We won’t experience it. Whether we’re twenty-five or sixty-five, a white collar office worker or a blue collar laborer, we won’t be affected. At least, not most of us and certainly not to its fullest and most disruptive extent. But, those who follow after us – our future families – will. Those generations will be totally immersed in it. They will live with it, know nothing else but it, and be shaped forever by it. The arrival of a new era in the history of humankind. A redefinition of that most fundamental aspect of our lives – work.
This post-industrial, post-information, post-everything-we’ve-ever-known age will begin in the United States and then spread inexorably around the world. It will establish a new reality, marked by the ultimate technological step function: machines will become smarter than people. They will also be stronger and nimbler, and more durable and reliable, as well. They will even be more creative than their human creators and more inventive than those who invent their constituent technologies. Machines will, in short, be better than humans in everything humans do in the workplace. And that discontinuity will change the graph of employment in America and reshape the society which it supports.
In the space of just five generations, the human workforce will go from being coveted and acquired as “talent,” to being dismissed and discarded as irrelevant. Today’s so-called War for Talent will have come to an end, but with an unexpected outcome – machines will have emerged as the victors. Every job now performed by a human will be done instead by more capable algorithms and robots. One hundred years from now – circa 2118 and beyond – super strong and ultra-intelligent machines will end the employment of people.
Sounds like the stuff of science fiction movies and dystopian novels, doesn’t it?
And yet, smart robots and other forms of automation have already replaced huge numbers of human workers on the assembly line and the farm; in banks and law firms; at highway toll booths, airline ticket counters and urban parking lots; and in call centers, secretarial pools, printing plants and warehouses. Though this reality is often ignored, it’s no secret that machines are already elbowing humans out of a growing number of blue-collar and even white-collar jobs. In 100 years, that usurpation of the employed man and woman will have reached its inevitable conclusion. People will be unneeded and unwanted on-the-job.
Machines will plow the fields; manufacture consumer and industrial products; repair cars, trucks, planes and ships; cook the meals in fine restaurants and serve freshly grilled hamburgers in fast food chains. They will construct new homes and office buildings and repair underground water mains and electrical cables; they will mow the lawns in our parks and paint the stripes on the streets for our driverless city buses. They will police our neighborhoods, fight our fires, respond to our medical emergencies, and deliver what mail is still being sent through our postal system.
Machines will even learn the niceties of human customer service and become the only sales associates found in stores, whether we’re shopping online or in local retail establishments. They will always be courteous, unfailingly helpful, and completely knowledgeable about whatever product or service catches our fancy. In fact, that transformation is already underway. A 2017 report by the accounting and consulting firm PwC predicts that machines will fill over 44 percent of all retail jobs by 2030. Less than ninety years after that, they will be ringing up sales in every store we visit.