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Commission led by Bloomberg, New America imagines the future of work

July 06, 2017

Whether or not the drastic changes coming to the future of work go well or poorly for America depends largely on how the country responds, according to a new report from Shift: The Commission on Work, Workers, and Technology. The commission, which is led by Bloomberg and New America and comprised of members from across industry, philanthropy, government, and academia, structures scenarios regarding the future of work around two guiding questions: Will the future have more or less work? Will that work be divided into jobs or into tasks? Based on these questions, the authors developed four scenarios to use as a framework, each with hypothetical driving factors, early signs, challenges, and signature technologies. They also propose examples of machine- and human-occupation within each scenario, as well as some potential educational, social, and geographic implications. 

In the “Rock-Paper-Scissors Economy,” the authors predict comprehensive automation and relatively few jobs. Under this scenario, machines would perform the vast majority of work in the United States, while human jobs would mainly consist of caring for the elderly or sick, providing emotional support, or creating cultural experiences and other artisanal products. New types of automation may render certain jobs or skills unnecessary, inducing anxiety for workers around topics such as the stability of income or work.

The “King of the Castle Economy” would feature increased automation of work, with the broad elimination of many professional service jobs. Human work would predominantly be for those working to develop new technologies, monitor artificial intelligence systems, or service an ultra-wealthy ruling class. Challenges in this scenario include a hyper-dependence on companies (for benefits, trainings), a proliferation of the black market, and an overall decline in social mobility.  

An increasingly specialized task economy is central to the authors’ “Jump Rope Economy” scenario. While most aspects of work could be automated under the Jump Rope Economy, the authors also expect technology platforms to pave way for a rise in contingent workers. Like the other scenarios, this economy may result in increased anxiety for workers around stability, while challenging the reliability of the social safety net.  

In the last scenario, the “Go Economy, human and machine functions would be heavily intertwined. Under this scenario, artificial intelligence would be integrated into work in such a way that economic opportunities are expanded for individuals, with education specifically focused on learning technologies and trades. In addition to common challenges around worker anxiety, this scenario could also present issues around privacy and the role of machine functions in society.

Ultimately, the authors suggest that the future of work will affect individuals in every sector of the economy, making waves across demographics, skill levels, and geographies. The extent of these changes is largely dependent on which of the proposed scenarios ends up coming into fruition. Given these changes, however, the authors conclude that the central role for employers in society is in need of a re-examination. Since the future of work does not align neatly with traditional political coalitions or parties, the authors suggest that new alliances that include every sector of society – individual, cultural, technological, corporate, philanthropic, academic, and political – are both possible and essential. 

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