New era job relations is about to dawn. There has been a fair number of industrial revolutions, yet each such revolution is fundamentally different from the previous one. And while we wait for machines to be smarter than people, we experience a small revolution in job relations. Today I suggest reading here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Job atomization vs job automation
The large industrial revolution that swept the word a hundred of years ago culminated in the creation of a car and a construction belt. And now we are reiterating this revolution. We teach the cars to drive and we replace all the construction belt workers by machines. There is a finer irony in action. Henry Ford created his construction line after watching butchers deconstruct cows in huge industrial plants. And we teach robots to deconstruct every move we make while they replace us.
Henry Ford introduced job atomization: small well-defined jobs that enable a person to become the best in the world at doing something very few other people do. Complex jobs were deconstructed into several smaller jobs. When dividing the smaller jobs between people, new levels of specialization and expertise were created.
And now the last thing you want is a narrow atomic job since it is much easier to train a robot to do this job. We still should not fear automation: the robots excel in doing atomic jobs we do not really like, and we like to do complex jobs no robot has yet learned to handle. We enjoy teamwork, brainstorming, design. We are still much more flexible than any AI.
Managing bots vs bot manager
The job of a manager is strange. There is a strongly mechanistic element of plans, statistics, and oversight which can easily be handled by a bot. And then there is a creative element of leadership, vision, and mentorship that (hopefully) no robot can handle.
Thus we find ourselves in an interesting sandwich, where a human manages a bot, the bot manages people that in turn manage yet more bots. Who plans our time and sets up meetings? Bots. Who answers customers and manages supply chain? Bots. Who produces the products on the conveyor belt? Bots. We provide some marketing, vision, flexible process integration. Coding is becoming the new blue color job, where we program the low-level bots to do their job. There are layers upon layers of people and machines generating business policy, design, and technology behind the production lines.
Should we worry?
What kind of job should we advise our kids to learn? Something that has been a safe choice for millennia like medical work or legal practice, will soon be swarmed with bots. Programming has been a solid choice for at least 50 years, but what kind of programming will that be? As bots become more complex, who will handle product design and robotic psychology? Probably a new generation of data scientists will need more psychology than engineering and math. Would I suggest my kids learn psychology and industrial design? I do not know.
Since the big depression, we have lived through almost 100 years of job security in the western world. While this period is probably over, we should still enjoy a couple of decades of a good time, as we can focus on the creative jobs and leave bots to do repetitive tasks.
Alternative job arrangements
The future job arrangements will be flexible. We will work some of the time at home, some of the time from the office. We work with contractors throughout the world, and many of us will work as contractors, at least part of the time. The situation is becoming slightly confusing, as each of my coworkers has a special deal unique for him. I did not ask for a special deal, and I use a large part of my spare time to write this blog and do other projects.
I think our parents had less than we do, and our kids have more than we had when we were children. On the other hand, we work more and worry more and have less sex on average. And our kids worry much more and have ADHD and fear to miss out and do not spend time procrastinating. When we introduce alternative job arrangements, theoretically we get more time with our families. Practically, the work does not stop when we go home, it is always with us. Not a very sweet deal.
There were theories linking the industrial and technological progress with rising human population. Moreover, as people left farms and went to cities, and then left factories and went to work in offices, we have significantly more office workers helping to launch the next revolution. And not with rising AI population, and people leaving offices to work in laboratories and design centers, we will see a further acceleration of our technologies.
There have always been lazy bums: beggars, aristocrats, gangsters, and welfare cases. All of them also starting to feel the pressure. The only crime that is on the rise is a cyber crime. Marijuana is becoming legal, and it is a very good thing: no reason to use bad drugs that really hurt people when you can enjoy good recreational and medical drugs. For people who do not have anything but suffering in their future, doctor-assisted suicide will hopefully be legal some day. As our values shift from cherishing white male life towards cherishing the quality life of any sort, some of the social injustice disappears. The line between game and work is thinner than ever, and soon there will be no psychological incentive not to work. Rich people will be able to work harder, and have deeper satisfaction from their jobs.
Our world belongs to the young people, the early adopters, the trendsetter. The future is larger unpredictable and any trend we notice may soon revert. Who knows, maybe the next generation of nurses and social workers will be bots. And maybe soft exoskeletons and designer drugs will make us fit for work even as we get old.