What will future jobs look like? | Andrew McAfee

What will future jobs look like? | Andrew McAfee

Translator: Joseph Geni
Reviewer: Morton Bast The writer George Eliot cautioned us that, among all forms of mistake, prophesy is the most gratuitous. The person that we would all acknowledge as her 20th-century counterpart, Yogi Berra, agreed. He said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” I’m going to ignore their cautions and make one very specific forecast. In the world that we are creating very quickly, we’re going to see more and more things that look like science fiction, and fewer and fewer things that look like jobs. Our cars are very quickly going to start driving themselves, which means we’re going to need fewer truck drivers. We’re going to hook Siri up to Watson and use that to automate a lot of the work that’s currently done by customer service reps and troubleshooters and diagnosers, and we’re already taking R2D2, painting him orange, and putting him to work carrying shelves around warehouses, which means we need a lot fewer people to be walking up and down those aisles. Now, for about 200 years, people have been saying exactly what I’m telling you — the age of technological unemployment is at hand — starting with the Luddites smashing looms in Britain just about two centuries ago, and they have been wrong. Our economies in the developed world have coasted along on something pretty close to full employment. Which brings up a critical question: Why is this time different, if it really is? The reason it’s different is that, just in the past few years, our machines have started demonstrating skills they have never, ever had before: understanding, speaking, hearing, seeing, answering, writing, and they’re still acquiring new skills. For example, mobile humanoid robots are still incredibly primitive, but the research arm of the Defense Department just launched a competition to have them do things like this, and if the track record is any guide, this competition is going to be successful. So when I look around, I think the day is not too far off at all when we’re going to have androids doing a lot of the work that we are doing right now. And we’re creating a world where there is going to be more and more technology and fewer and fewer jobs. It’s a world that Erik Brynjolfsson and I are calling “the new machine age.” The thing to keep in mind is that this is absolutely great news. This is the best economic news on the planet these days. Not that there’s a lot of competition, right? This is the best economic news we have these days for two main reasons. The first is, technological progress is what allows us to continue this amazing recent run that we’re on where output goes up over time, while at the same time, prices go down, and volume and quality just continue to explode. Now, some people look at this and talk about shallow materialism, but that’s absolutely the wrong way to look at it. This is abundance, which is exactly what we want our economic system to provide. The second reason that the new machine age is such great news is that, once the androids start doing jobs, we don’t have to do them anymore, and we get freed up from drudgery and toil. Now, when I talk about this with my friends in Cambridge and Silicon Valley, they say, “Fantastic. No more drudgery, no more toil. This gives us the chance to imagine an entirely different kind of society, a society where the creators and the discoverers and the performers and the innovators come together with their patrons and their financiers to talk about issues, entertain, enlighten, provoke each other.” It’s a society really, that looks a lot like the TED Conference. And there’s actually a huge amount of truth here. We are seeing an amazing flourishing taking place. In a world where it is just about as easy to generate an object as it is to print a document, we have amazing new possibilities. The people who used to be craftsmen and hobbyists are now makers, and they’re responsible for massive amounts of innovation. And artists who were formerly constrained can now do things that were never, ever possible for them before. So this is a time of great flourishing, and the more I look around, the more convinced I become that this quote, from the physicist Freeman Dyson, is not hyperbole at all. This is just a plain statement of the facts. We are in the middle of an astonishing period. [“Technology is a gift of God. After the gift of life it is perhaps the greatest of God’s gifts. It is the mother of civilizations, of arts and of sciences.” — Freeman Dyson] Which brings up another great question: What could possibly go wrong in this new machine age? Right? Great, hang up, flourish, go home. We’re going to face two really thorny sets of challenges as we head deeper into the future that we’re creating. The first are economic, and they’re really nicely summarized in an apocryphal story about a back-and-forth between Henry Ford II and Walter Reuther, who was the head of the auto workers union. They were touring one of the new modern factories, and Ford playfully turns to Reuther and says, “Hey Walter, how are you going to get these robots to pay union dues?” And Reuther shoots back, “Hey Henry, how are you going to get them to buy cars?” Reuther’s problem in that anecdote is that it is tough to offer your labor to an economy that’s full of machines, and we see this very clearly in the statistics. If you look over the past couple decades at the returns to capital — in other words, corporate profits — we see them going up, and we see that they’re now at an all-time high. If we look at the returns to labor, in other words total wages paid out in the economy, we see them at an all-time low and heading very quickly in the opposite direction. So this is clearly bad news for Reuther. It looks like it might be great news for Ford, but it’s actually not. If you want to sell huge volumes of somewhat expensive goods to people, you really want a large, stable, prosperous middle class. We have had one of those in America for just about the entire postwar period. But the middle class is clearly under huge threat right now. We all know a lot of the statistics, but just to repeat one of them, median income in America has actually gone down over the past 15 years, and we’re in danger of getting trapped in some vicious cycle where inequality and polarization continue to go up over time. The societal challenges that come along with that kind of inequality deserve some attention. There are a set of societal challenges that I’m actually not that worried about, and they’re captured by images like this. This is not the kind of societal problem that I am concerned about. There is no shortage of dystopian visions about what happens when our machines become self-aware, and they decide to rise up and coordinate attacks against us. I’m going to start worrying about those the day my computer becomes aware of my printer. (Laughter) (Applause) So this is not the set of challenges we really need to worry about. To tell you the kinds of societal challenges that are going to come up in the new machine age, I want to tell a story about two stereotypical American workers. And to make them really stereotypical, let’s make them both white guys. And the first one is a college-educated professional, creative type, manager, engineer, doctor, lawyer, that kind of worker. We’re going to call him “Ted.” He’s at the top of the American middle class. His counterpart is not college-educated and works as a laborer, works as a clerk, does low-level white collar or blue collar work in the economy. We’re going to call that guy “Bill.” And if you go back about 50 years, Bill and Ted were leading remarkably similar lives. For example, in 1960 they were both very likely to have full-time jobs, working at least 40 hours a week. But as the social researcher Charles Murray has documented, as we started to automate the economy, and 1960 is just about when computers started to be used by businesses, as we started to progressively inject technology and automation and digital stuff into the economy, the fortunes of Bill and Ted diverged a lot. Over this time frame, Ted has continued to hold a full-time job. Bill hasn’t. In many cases, Bill has left the economy entirely, and Ted very rarely has. Over time, Ted’s marriage has stayed quite happy. Bill’s hasn’t. And Ted’s kids have grown up in a two-parent home, while Bill’s absolutely have not over time. Other ways that Bill is dropping out of society? He’s decreased his voting in presidential elections, and he’s started to go to prison a lot more often. So I cannot tell a happy story about these social trends, and they don’t show any signs of reversing themselves. They’re also true no matter which ethnic group or demographic group we look at, and they’re actually getting so severe that they’re in danger of overwhelming even the amazing progress we made with the Civil Rights Movement. And what my friends in Silicon Valley and Cambridge are overlooking is that they’re Ted. They’re living these amazingly busy, productive lives, and they’ve got all the benefits to show from that, while Bill is leading a very different life. They’re actually both proof of how right Voltaire was when he talked about the benefits of work, and the fact that it saves us from not one but three great evils. [“Work saves a man from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.” — Voltaire] So with these challenges, what do we do about them? The economic playbook is surprisingly clear, surprisingly straightforward, in the short term especially. The robots are not going to take all of our jobs in the next year or two, so the classic Econ 101 playbook is going to work just fine: Encourage entrepreneurship, double down on infrastructure, and make sure we’re turning out people from our educational system with the appropriate skills. But over the longer term, if we are moving into an economy that’s heavy on technology and light on labor, and we are, then we have to consider some more radical interventions, for example, something like a guaranteed minimum income. Now, that’s probably making some folk in this room uncomfortable, because that idea is associated with the extreme left wing and with fairly radical schemes for redistributing wealth. I did a little bit of research on this notion, and it might calm some folk down to know that the idea of a net guaranteed minimum income has been championed by those frothing-at-the-mouth socialists Friedrich Hayek, Richard Nixon and Milton Friedman. And if you find yourself worried that something like a guaranteed income is going to stifle our drive to succeed and make us kind of complacent, you might be interested to know that social mobility, one of the things we really pride ourselves on in the United States, is now lower than it is in the northern European countries that have these very generous social safety nets. So the economic playbook is actually pretty straightforward. The societal one is a lot more challenging. I don’t know what the playbook is for getting Bill to engage and stay engaged throughout life. I do know that education is a huge part of it. I witnessed this firsthand. I was a Montessori kid for the first few years of my education, and what that education taught me is that the world is an interesting place and my job is to go explore it. The school stopped in third grade, so then I entered the public school system, and it felt like I had been sent to the Gulag. With the benefit of hindsight, I now know the job was to prepare me for life as a clerk or a laborer, but at the time it felt like the job was to kind of bore me into some submission with what was going on around me. We have to do better than this. We cannot keep turning out Bills. So we see some green shoots that things are getting better. We see technology deeply impacting education and engaging people, from our youngest learners up to our oldest ones. We see very prominent business voices telling us we need to rethink some of the things that we’ve been holding dear for a while. And we see very serious and sustained and data-driven efforts to understand how to intervene in some of the most troubled communities that we have. So the green shoots are out there. I don’t want to pretend for a minute that what we have is going to be enough. We’re facing very tough challenges. To give just one example, there are about five million Americans who have been unemployed for at least six months. We’re not going to fix things for them by sending them back to Montessori. And my biggest worry is that we’re creating a world where we’re going to have glittering technologies embedded in kind of a shabby society and supported by an economy that generates inequality instead of opportunity. But I actually don’t think that’s what we’re going to do. I think we’re going to do something a lot better for one very straightforward reason: The facts are getting out there. The realities of this new machine age and the change in the economy are becoming more widely known. If we wanted to accelerate that process, we could do things like have our best economists and policymakers play “Jeopardy!” against Watson. We could send Congress on an autonomous car road trip. And if we do enough of these kinds of things, the awareness is going to sink in that things are going to be different. And then we’re off to the races, because I don’t believe for a second that we have forgotten how to solve tough challenges or that we have become too apathetic or hard-hearted to even try. I started my talk with quotes from wordsmiths who were separated by an ocean and a century. Let me end it with words from politicians who were similarly distant. Winston Churchill came to my home of MIT in 1949, and he said, “If we are to bring the broad masses of the people in every land to the table of abundance, it can only be by the tireless improvement of all of our means of technical production.” Abraham Lincoln realized there was one other ingredient. He said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to give them the plain facts.” So the optimistic note, great point that I want to leave you with is that the plain facts of the machine age are becoming clear, and I have every confidence that we’re going to use them to chart a good course into the challenging, abundant economy that we’re creating. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. Projecting our current position forward I see a world where machines run everything for the benefit of a few while the rest of us languish in prisons with robot guards. Eat the rich!

  2. Still, this guy has not realized that he belongs to one of those lovely GREEDY race that doesn't care about rest of the ecology on the planet. Lets realize Mars on Earth very soon.

  3. Learn how to hang around your family members instead of focus on members- only- game players. They have been doing but you worked for them very hard. You thought they serve you but theyy learned from you advanced skill from the bottom floors watching your shows. You needed them to do minial jobs in your territories making you feel Masterkings. But they were kings children before you hunt animals to make leather shoes and clothes to shields to invade to get back your inventions. What are your inventions?? Making irons or squeeze oils??

  4. Some of the TED Talks are freaking LAME!

    Just like this one. They suck you in, telling you, "Hey we have a problem."
    Yet they never give the listeners a solution, or even brain storming ideas.
    They let you know the 'why' something is wrong, but never give us the 'how' or 'what'.
    The how to solve it or what to do.

  5. I never will understand how people are worried about blue collar labor jobs disappearing. Those robots and machines that "take" your job on the factory floor will break down just like any other piece of mechanical equipment. so when they start to take the jobs of your peers thats when you start to set aside some money to get vocational trained to fix the machines. now even if they take your current job you will still have a job as the only guy smart enough to have learned to fix the machines.

  6. Well, good thing I am a "Ted". I have been telling people around me they have to climb the stairs into non-repetitive/creative/technological job instead of keeping some sort of simple 8h/day job to pay the bills. Statistics he presented are, I believe, true all over the world becouse of economy that is so interconnected. "Bills" in my country were also fine 30 years ago. Today…They are worse and worse off. While I am better and better. And it looks like the trends is actually even accelerating. 7 years ago I was making "X" amount of money as some of my colegues. Today most of them make "0,8X" while I make "4X". In this world you cannot stay still otherwise it is gonna run over you. Greetings from Czech Republic.

  7. Ever since at least 1980, We the People of planet Earth have had the capability of providing the highest quality of food, the highest quality of clothing, the highest quality of shelter, the highest quality of health care, and the highest quality of education for each and every man, woman and child on the face of the Earth, and to do it in such a way that was in Harmony with Nature.

    We already have gazillions of practical creative solutions.

    What we don’t have here in the USA is at least 80 million individuals who are well-informed, free of disinformation and misinformation, on all the major issues of today AND devoting their time, energy, resources, and talents to the political process to make sure that only the most Loving/most Wise among us become our public servants.

    Then and only then will we be in a position to actually implement them on a grand scale and finally begin the process of transitioning to a Whole New Way of Living rooted in Love and Wisdom, with little or no need for government.

  8. Just start supporting small local businesses and keep money in your local economy, everytime you purchase something from a multinational such as Starbucks you're money is lost to a corporate black hole, the circular flow of wealth has turned into an upwards pyramid flow of wealth, you can stop it with your wallet

  9. hey ,if anyone else needs to find out about how to make wine at home step by step try Corbandy Tasty Wine Crusher (just google it ) ? Ive heard some interesting things about it and my brother in law got excellent results with it.

  10. Well here's someone who doesn't think outside the box. Remember how good communism sounded on paper? Well look different it was when applied

  11. Your title uses the word 'like' as a preposition. I don't know if you're care about being grammatically correct but if you do, here's part of the rule. Do not end sentences with a preposition that has less than five letters. If your preposition has less than five letter then it needs to be the first word of a prepositional phrase not the last word of a sentence. If your title hadn't been in the form of a question you could be grammatically correct.

  12. Nice Video. You are #5 in the top 10 results for the keyword 'what should my future job be'.I can show you what other keywords you rank for. Would you like to know?

  13. Such a liar, denier and mental, So Called society won’t be like That, I won’t live In one ran by stupid machine’s everywhere That are all so Called fully automated.

  14. What year is the second indurstrialization going to happen? I want to be able to sit and do nothing all day because of robots. If it's going to happen soon I'll just wait to get a job

  15. End of humanity..robots will work while we roam around like zombies. It's clear that motherfuckers are only focused machine propserity and not human prosperity. What will humans be used for??

  16. This man is an updated version of Alvin Toffler: Both of them are cheerleaders of captains of industry posing as "social innovators." Bill one day will hopefully rise up and tame Ted.

  17. Was that optimism, or naivete? It's so hard to tell. I see very dark times coming for the middle class on down. A college education doesn't even guarantee a good job in this day and age anymore. And I definitely don't see that improving.

    Until education becomes extremely cheap or free, the middle class common Joe without a college education is in serious trouble.

  18. In the '80s and '90s, employers use to train new employees. It was expected that new employees would ask a lot of questions and make mistakes, and that was okay within a healthy range. Today it seems that employers expect new employees to have previously developed work skills and don't invest in on the job training. A lot of work skill is developed previously to employment in college, vocational training programs, and now in elementary schools. Unfortunately, these institutions are focused strongly on children and young adults. I haven't seen any (effective) training or education options available to low-income adults who need to transition into a new career.

  19. Why don't use that technology to global planning them? To bring a higher standard of living for everyone and protect the environment.

  20. basically people will have no jobs and they'll sit around drinking coffee all day (coffee is terrible for u) and be bored from morning till night. they'll have nothing to do cause most likely a basic income will be provided to everyone.

  21. If you're looking for a job that will last far in the 21st century, consider getting a career in the solar industry. It's our new energy future plus you get the added benefit of making the world a better place. If you're interested, check out this course on Udemy on how you can get a job in the solar field https://www.udemy.com/join/login-popup/?next=/how-to-get-a-job-in-the-solar-industry/learn/v4/

  22. I don’t know about you but this sounds to me like creepy globalist stuff. I made trucks that drive them selves? I don’t think so

  23. Here is how you solve the problem:

    Migrate from an economy that rewards trade and service with monetary return and instead have it where it rewards new ideas and innovations while transitioning to universal basic income.

  24. The future is still here. Accept it and start your very own adoption process OR keep complaining. It's everyone's individual choice.

  25. It's interesting to hear you summarising your Montessori experience: to go out there and to know the world. As a nursery teacher, that's exactly what I want for my students to experience. Nearly six years have passed since this speech has been available here, and the trend is exactly as you describe here. The next question for me is: how to educate children so they find their way through the new economy (name industry 4.0)? What kind of vision and skills they'd need to have?

  26. Will robots cure cold sores? That’d be cool 😎 feel one coming and when I get em I skip work. Here robot take my job!!

  27. B"H… Milton Friedman was against the minimum wage because it was detrimental to employment. your false premise produces crap.

  28. He spends 13 minutes telling us we are screwed and then 1 1/2 minutes telling us he has confidence we will be alright lol.

  29. Ford is fucked.. they don't make cars anymore and theyve been having massive recalls on trucks lately..

  30. We should stop asking kids what they want to do and leaving it up to them.. kids don't know anything about the world and we intentionally keep them in the dark and then when they turn 18 they're supposed to have figured their whole life out.. we should be encouraging people to do what theyre best at and will give them the best opportunity in life.. no one did this for me and now I'm struggling. We shouldn't be selling college to our kids and putting them into debt.. shouldn't be putting every homeowner in debt.. this is some weird slavery.. we should try to be an actual civilization for our people for a change. One that promotes each other's livlihoods rather than trying to take everything from everyone and tear each other down all the time..

  31. « This is abundance, which is exactly what we want our economic system to provide. »

    W H A T, no. 👎🏼

  32. Join our podcast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0H2dDrNB9D0&fbclid=IwAR2wJjmTiHVCP23PMZoQGERiXR98grCOW6gyHYYcqMgGrkEpse-FXqCRDEg

  33. never. if you look at history , technology never freed up entire people for freedom. it will be the same, poor will be poor and rich will keep their richies.

  34. …not very inspirational as it clearly sets out the obliteration of the human race…AI replaces human thinking (AI with compassion, love, empathy, consciouness…will never be possible, a human soul can not be designed, engineered, implanted, transported, etc…)…robot-humanoids doing what human beings used to do…end result, an overpopulated, inactive, overheated planet with a diminishing capacity to feed its inhabitants? Not very promising.

  35. At this point in time it very clear to me that moving forward we all must do our part to educate with facts.

  36. Seeing that the Haves haven't done squat to stop the trend of the rapid growth of the Have Nots (a trend whose rate will increase) I have zero expectation that REAL help will ever be applied except only to keep the masses from rioting. This is the way of those who are practicing indifferent avarice, and are sociopathic. In other words, it's going to get a WHOLE LOT harder for the lower 95% and real consideration from the 5% will never be seen. So move out of the city and learn subsistence living and keep a job as long as you can and save.

  37. There is the unspoken assumption that there will be a need for everyone even if they cannot do any work. There will be lots of folk on benefits in mass trailer parks, that is until the elite eliminate them in a war.

  38. Yeah, I got mad at a few cashiers and orded from catalogs for a year to show it was possible. What a coinkidink. I also reported to the police that I was being followed. You're so much smarter than us though.

  39. I don't like to talk to live bill collectors on the phone either. They provoke me to talk over them and when I raise my voice they say, "mam,mam,mam."

  40. Before implemening guarantee minimum income I think it would be better to think of reduced work week. We can start working 6 hours a day, then, four or three hours a day. It is more psychologically sane and sastifying to work for a living,: the sense of being usefull to society, to see onself as a dependent being is not goof. I think this is an intelligent way to manage the transition. period until new ways be created or emerge that can give dignity to our lifes.

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