This week’s Google Duplex demo raised important and provocative ethical questions about human-machine interactions. It also offered a glimmer of hope that the long-ago promise that technology would free us from mental and physical grunt work to enjoy lives of leisure might yet live.
The work that Duplex would do, book appointments, schedule reservations, is work that, to date, most of us have done for ourselves.
It’s called shadow work, and it’s become so ubiquitous that we barely notice it anymore. Our collective anxieties about automation and AI make it easy to overlook the less dramatic ways that work is being shifted away from workers.
This week I noticed an eye-catching stat making the rounds again. You’ve likely seen it as well:
“65% of today’s elementary school students will do jobs that do not yet exist”
Although it sounds believable, the claim is actually quite suspect. You can read a thoughtful tale of its history and context in this excellent essay from Benjamin Doxtdator: ‘A Field Guide to ‘jobs that don’t exist yet’’.
The underlying message this stat conveys is that education is failing to prepare our next generation for the economy of tomorrow. And hey, don’t we already have a digital skills gap?
The perils and promise we imagine the future to hold are like a mirage on the horizon, reflecting a time that never really arrives. It is the perfect canvas for us to project our hopes and fears onto, always ahead, ominous or inviting.
The result is that we fail to attend to the present and our recent past, and the clues they might offer to validate or diminish our fears and hopes.
A weekly post in which I share thoughts provoked by (some of) the great content I came across this week(ish).
A weekly post in which I share (some of) the most thought-provoking content I read this week(ish), which I am too lazy to write full blog posts about:
A couple of articles in The Economist and The Atlantic this week have me thinking about peak jobs again. Especially since The Economist article pulls in the thoughts of anthropologist David Graeber, as my last blog post on the topic did. As a reminder, the concept of peak jobs refers to a point at which technology’s destruction of jobs (through automation or innovation) meets or exceeds its capacity to create jobs (through demand for technological goods and services). As I’ve written about previously, anxiety related to peak jobs has amplified in recent years as the type of jobs being automated has shifted from the most menial roles to jobs that we previously viewed as safe. This, combined with a broad hollowing out of middle management jobs in many sectors (jobs we still tend to agree are safe from automation), has left a larger group of us watching our backs for the encroaching robot workforce. Read more