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Short & Sweet AI - Dr. Peper EPISODE 47, 29th March 2021
A World Without Work - Daniel Susskind Says It's a Real Possibility
00:00:00 00:07:04

A World Without Work - Daniel Susskind Says It's a Real Possibility

Is a world without work a reality we need to prepare for? 

In my last episode, I discussed whether the fear of machines taking over jobs was truly misplaced anxiety, as experts say. Experts believe that there’s no cause for alarm, but not everyone agrees.

Some believe that a future where human workers become obsolete is a real possibility we need to prepare for.

In this episode of Short and Sweet AI, I delve into the theory that our future will be a world without work. I discuss Daniel Susskind’s fascinating book, ‘A World Without Work,’ which explores the topic of technological unemployment in great detail.

In this episode, find out:

  • What Daniel Susskind believes about the future of work
  • How machines can replicate even cognitive skills
  • Theories on how society could adapt to a world without work
  • How we could live a meaningful life without work

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Episode Transcript:

Hello to you who are curious about AI. I’m Dr. Peper and today I’m talking about a world without work.

In my last episode, I talked about the future of work. Economists, futurists, and AI thinkers generally agree that technological unemployment is not a real threat. Our anxiety about machines taking our jobs is misplaced. There have been three centuries of technological advances and each time, technology has created more jobs than it destroyed. So, no need for alarm.  

But Daniel Susskind, an Oxford economist and advisor to the British government, thinks this time, with artificial intelligence, the threat really is very real. He wants us to start discussing the future of work because as he sees it, the future of work is A World Without Work, which is the title of his recent book. He explains why what’s been called a slow-motion crisis of losing jobs to machines and automation, needs to be discussed now because it really isn’t slow-motion anymore.

Despite increased productivity and GDP from artificial intelligence, Susskind presents evidence technological unemployment is coming. As he says, we don’t need to solve the mysteries of how the brain and mind operate to build machines that can outperform human beings.

Machines have been taking over jobs requiring manual abilities for decades. It’s happening now. Although the American manufacturing economy has grown over the past few decades, it hasn’t created more work. Manufacturing produces 70 percent more output than it did in 1986 but requires 30 percent fewer workers to produce it. 

More importantly, machines are increasingly being used in the cognitive skills areas, too. AI deep learning is used to read x-rays, compose music, review legal documents, detect eye diseases, and personalize online learning systems. And in the controversial area of synthetic media, AI systems can generate believable videos of events that never happened.   

Machines also have human skills such as empathy and the ability to determine how someone feels. Algorithms are making headway into effectively and accurately reading human emotion through facial recognition and language. I talked about this in my episode on Affective AI.

The most significant point Susskind makes, in my opinion, is that we think machines can’t perform some human tasks because they can’t perform them the same way humans do. Many doctors use gut instinct and vast hands-on experience when treating patients. Machines won’t be able to diagnose this same way, the way doctors do. Machines will be able to accurately perform the task but in a different way.

So, the three capabilities that humans use to earn a living, manual skills, cognitive skills, and emotional intelligence, are all being replaced by machines. Susskind doesn’t know exactly when this will happen, but he thinks it will be sooner than most people realize, within just decades, and certainly during the 21st century because during the next 80 years, machines will become a trillion times more powerful.

In a future world without work, Susskind asks how we will earn enough to live on and how will we all find meaning in our life. His assessment is that government, or the big state as he calls it, will be needed to redistribute income and wealth. And even more importantly, governments will need to introduce programs to nudge us into behaviors that will give us fulfillment rather than yielding to Netflix, boredom and despair. Instead of labor market policies, governments will need to form leisure policies that shape the way people use their spare time because the future of work will be the future of leisure.

At different points in time throughout history large groups from the Greeks to the English have lead life with meaning but without work. For instance, in Victorian England, the upper classes were far from depressed by their idleness. Indeed, they created some of the greatest poetry, literature, and science the world has known.

According to many AI experts, as well as Susskind, AI advances will continue at an exponential rate. It’s inevitable. Machines will ultimately do most of what humans do. In the science fiction series, The Expanse, in the future there won’t be work for the majority of people on Earth. People exist on a type of universal basic income. But some families feel strongly that they want their children to live a life with meaning that comes from work. Their only option is to move to Mars which exists to defend Earth, and where everyone has a job, working for the military.   

I highly recommend reading A World Without Work. David Susskind goes into much more detail with entertaining examples and comprehensive discussions of universal basic income, the age of labor, the limits of education, and much more.

But what do you think? Could you cultivate a meaningful life without work?

Thanks for listening. I hope you found this helpful. If you liked this episode, please leave a review and subscribe. From Short and Sweet AI, I’m Dr. Peper.