We know that work is going to radically change in the next few decades. Here's four usefully different scenarios
An entertaining and useful set of scenarios from the RSA's Future of Work centre. They’re trying to stay away from the usual extremes - total eviction of humans by machines, or total liberation of humans by machines; our self-destruction via producing-to-consume, or our salvation from it - and evoke some more usable futures. Ones in which we imagine the challenges of purposeful and valuable action (call that “work”, if you like) might be differently realised.
This blog set out the futures attractively and simply. The paper itself (here on PDF) is worth downloading, but here’s the clear takeaway from the RSA:
The Big Tech Economy describes a world where most technologies develop at a rapid pace, from self-driving cars to 3D printing.
Call it Googleville or picture the Amazon rainforest being actually sponsored by Amazon. A new machine age delivers significant improvements in the quality of products and public services, with the cost of everyday goods including transport and energy plummeting.
However, unemployment and economic insecurity ramp upwards, and the spoils of growth are offshored and concentrated in a handful of US and Chinese tech behemoths.
The dizzying pace of change leaves workers and unions with little time to respond – and any dissent is quashed by flash PR and ‘CSR’ operations. We never stood a chance.
The Precision Economy portrays a future of hyper-surveillance and algorithmic optimisation.
They are watching you! Here technological progress is moderate, but the juggernauts know where the value is. A proliferation of sensors allows firms to create value by capturing and analysing more information on objects, people and the environment.
Gig platforms take on more prominence and rating systems become pervasive in the workplace. While some lament these trends as invasive, others believe they have ushered in a more meritocratic society where effort is more generously rewarded.
A hyper-connected society also leads to wider positive spill overs, with less waste as fewer resources are left idle. And each time you recycle your personal star rating gets an additional percentile…
The Exodus Economy is characterised by an economic slowdown.
Get ready for the backlash. A crash on the scale of 2008 dries up funding for innovation and keeps the UK in a low-skilled, low-productivity and low-paid rut.
Faced with another bout of austerity, a new generation of workers lose faith in the promise of capitalism to improve their lives, and alternative economic models gather interest.
Cooperatives and mutuals emerge in large numbers to serve peoples’ core economic needs in food, energy and banking.
While some workers struggle on poverty wages, others discover ways to live more self-sufficiently, including by moving away from urban areas, back to the land.
The Empathy Economy envisages a future of responsible stewardship.
….And breathe. In this scenario, technology advances at a clip, but so too does public awareness of its dangers.
Tech companies self-regulate to stem concerns and work hand in hand with external stakeholders to create new products that work on everyone’s terms.
Automation, where it occurs, is carefully managed in partnership with workers and unions. Disposable income flows into ‘empathy sectors’ like education, care and entertainment.
This trend is broadly welcomed but brings with it a new challenge of emotional labour, where the need to be continuously expressive and available takes its toll. It’s hard being the shoulder to cry on all of the time.
As it’s no doubt intended to do, we started to cherry pick what was positive from each of the scenarios, and bolt them together as a possible total new politics:
Big tech plummets the costs of everyday products and services
Surveillance - or better, co-vaillence - systems reward our every valuable action, and cut down on wasteful efforts, both human and material
Cooperative and mutual enterprise expands, providing food, energy and banking services, and a shift from urban life to a self-providing rural life
Technologies’ powers are better regulated, and its bounty poured into driving people towards “empathy” sectors, like education, care and entertainment
Now, what would a politics be like that pulled all those economics elements together?