What Happens Next
If mass automation is inevitable, what will our careers look like in the future? These four thinkers weigh in.
Kai-Fu LeeFounder of Sinovation Ventures and former president of Google China
Automation will force us to realize that we are not defined by what we do
Farai ChideyaAuthor of "The Episodic Career"
The US can survive automation if it reimagines meritocracy
John C. HavensAuthor, "Heartificial Intelligence: Embracing our Humanity to Maximize Machines"
Automation may take our jobs, but personal data will save our paychecks
Where We Thought We’d Be
We can’t predict the future—but these experts thought they could. Here are some ideas they got right—or marvelously wrong.
- 1964 (for 2014)
(Very) remote work
Science writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke predicted “a world which we can be in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be, where we can contact our friends anywhere on Earth, even if we don’t know their actual, physical location.” “It will be possible,” Clarke said in a public speech, “for a man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London.”
- 1966 (for 2000)
"By 2000, the machines will be producing so much that everyone in the US will, in effect, be independently wealthy,” predicted the editors at Time magazine. With so much money floating around, the greatest challenge would be “how to use leisure meaningfully.” (Likewise, futurist Herman Kahn worried about the development of “a pleasure-oriented society full of 'wholesome degeneracy.'")
The pink slip
In the Omni Future Almanac, edited by Robert Weil, writers listed many of the positions they believed would be taken by robotic workers, including dry cleaners, farm workers, bank clerks, and store cashiers.
- 1982 (for 2000)
When the New York Times asked futurists to imagine the new millennium, the head of the Institute for the Future, Roy Amara, forecast that the greatest changes to come in the workplace would be cultural. “Work will be more self-managed by workers,” he said. “The workplace will be more cooperative than adversarial. Workers will want intellectual and psychological fulfillment, not just financial reward.”
Always on the clock
Accenture released a chilling concept video for a new kind of office where employees were all being tracked, all the time. “In today's office environment,” the voice-over says, “finding the right information usually means finding the right person at the right time.” To make that happen, employees wear a geo-located “active badge”: “the office contains a network of infrared sensors that can locate the badges—and hence, the people—throughout the environment.”
More from What Happens Next
Future of Aging
By 2020, people over age 65 will outnumber children under age 5. Humanity faces an urgent question on an unprecedented scale: How do we care for an aging population who can’t work, and harness the contributions of those who can?
Future of College
While the internet has made online learning virtually free, the price of traditional teaching is still soaring. When the job market is transforming more quickly each year, how can we reinvent education to keep up?
Future of Water
The world’s supply of cheap and clean water will likely plummet as the climate warms and populations boom. Can we find ways to conserve, cut waste, and find new sources before it’s too late?
Future of Gaming
With revenues topping $100 billion a year, the video game industry is poised to be this century’s dominant form of entertainment. As games become more addictive and expensive to play, how will they transform our social relationships as well as our leisure time?
Future of Home
Technology is transforming homes all over the world. In some places, cheap devices are powering and connecting homes long left off the grid. In others, newly automated and networked machines are reinventing convenience—but at what cost to privacy and human connection?
Future of Food
As global climate change worsens and the population expands, humanity must produce more food in the next 50 years than it has in the past 10,000. Are lab-made meat and automation the key to farming in the future, or must we tend to the soil we already have?
Future of Cities
By 2050, nearly 10 billion people will share our planet. As mega-cities rise and technology reshapes the urban landscape, how will these changes affect the vast majority of the world’s poor?
Future of Money
Anarchy reigns supreme in the future of finance, decentralizing the power of banks and, in some cases, the state. But will cryptocurrencies and the blockchains that underlie them solve our financial woes, or only worsen existing inequalities?
Future of Fact
Online manipulation and immersive media have begun to eradicate our shared notion of authenticity and trust. How will society change when we can no longer believe what we see, hear, or think?