Technology has proven to be the great disruptor when it comes to work. The industrial revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries shifted workers from farms to factories, and facilitated the rise of the American middle class. Now we’re living through a technological revolution that has already changed the way we work again, and according to a Pew report, the shift will continue over the next decade.
The Pew Research Center teamed up with Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center to survey nearly 2,000 experts about the impact of technology. While 52 percent of the respondents shrugged off the idea of a future run by robots and “digital agents,” the other 48 percent said technology would lead to increased displacement of both blue- and white-collar workers.
This is cause for concern among some of the experts, who believe that the technological revolution could increase the gap between the haves and the have-nots. But the report points out that historically, technology has had more of an equalizing effect and created more jobs than it destroyed.
“Technology will continue to disrupt jobs, but more jobs seem likely to be created,” said Jonathan Grudin, principal researcher for Microsoft. He pointed out that while there have always been unemployed people, the economy usually supports the population. “When the world population was a few hundred million people there were hundreds of millions of jobs… when we reached a few billion people there were billions of jobs.”
Others argue that technology won’t advance quickly enough to have a significant impact on jobs. Chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force Jari Arkko noted that some technologies take a long time to deploy at scale.
“We’ve been living a relatively slow but certain progress in these fields from the 1960s,” Arkko said.
While some of the experts were less optimistic, pointing out the potential for increased inequality and subsequent social unrest, several respondents saw technological innovations — automation in particular — as a doorway to creativity and freedom “from day-to-day drudgery.”
In keeping with the idea of technology as a creative enabler, many respondents predicted an increase in small-scale production of artisan goods, powered by the sharing economy.
“The sharing economy will empower individuals to a more socialized, community-driven economy where people sell to each other,” said Jesse Stay, founder of Stay N’ Alive Productions.
Ultimately, the report indicates that those who are able to adapt to a new idea of “work” will fare best.
“Jobs won’t go away though — what we call ‘a job’ will change,” Stay said.