a robot

Originally published 2013.07.15 and last updated on 2016.04.04.

Eventually, there won’t be jobs as we know them anymore. I look around at the mass media news sources and they seem so surprised that the number of available full-time jobs isn't increasing. They blame it on the economy.

(2016.02.25 update: note, the current "low" unemployment rate is basically a lie.)

The economy will be affected, but it’s not the biggest cause of falling job prospects.

In James Altucher’s book Choose Yourself!, he says he spoke with several CEOs around the time of the economic crash. He asked them bluntly, “Did you fire people simply because this was a good excuse to get rid of the people who were no longer useful?”

They all laughed nervously and said that was right.

The people who were no longer useful were the ones doing jobs that could be outsourced or that technology can now do. Usually better.

(2016.04.04 update: Why learning to code won't save everyone's job.)

Five months ago I asked the question, "How will the unemployed be treated when technology has replaced 95% of jobs? Will they still be considered lazy?"

I’m serious about this. We’re headed for a large shift in the way we think of work.

Culturally in the United States, I see the unemployed treated as lazy leeches. Certainly some are lazy, but in a future world where we can grow (or print!) enough food to feed everyone and there aren't enough jobs to go around, is that even a bad thing?

During the various financial crises lately, there have been lots of stories about hard working families losing their homes and jobs. Almost everyone either knows someone who was affected or was affected themselves. So unemployment has lost a bit of its stigma, but only a bit. Maybe that’s because everyone rallied against all the institutions they blamed for how things were and ultimately expected everything to go back to normal once the corruption and bad practices were dealt with.

But the truth is that the whole system relies on assumptions that aren't guaranteed true. It's entirely possible that the number of available full-time jobs will only continue to decline for the indefinite future.

What will the percentage of unemployed need to be before we set aside our lingering puritanical views of work and accept that there's enough for everyone to eat and have shelter even if the majority of people do nothing "useful"?

I don't know what will happen, but we’ll all get to see for ourselves. My personal favorite theory is that the world would then have the freedom to undergo a global cultural renaissance as we all focus on pursuits that are personally meaningful, even if they aren't profitable.

Science fiction is coming true. When we can 3D print whatever we need right at home and go anywhere and experience anything using virtual reality, can you even imagine the utter collapse of the consumerist system as we know it? The only jobs necessary then will be the maintainers of infrastructure, the extremely innovative inventors, and the creative entertainers who craft virtual experiences for people.

If you think this is far-fetched crazy talk, then you haven’t been paying attention to tech news lately:

As James said in his book, “We are moving toward a society without employees. It’s not here yet. But it will be.”

2015.05.28 update:
Should We Be Afraid, Very Afraid? A rebuttal of the most common arguments against a future of technological unemployment

2015.06.12 update:
On May 6, 2015, the first self-driving truck hit the American road in the state of Nevada. Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck

Photo credit: Science (et) fiction - 58 by Pierre Metivier.