“Resisting automation seems both futile and undesirable”
Many people are worried about the rise of smart machines and the impact this may have on paid employment. Several recently-published books, including Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s The Second Machine Age and Martin Ford’s The Rise of the Robots have forecast widespread technological unemployment over the next half century. We talked to John Danaher, lecturer in Law, NUI Galway and W-JAX speaker, about the role of automation and the skill sets we might need in the future.
JAXenter: In the abstract of your session, you mention some recently-published books which forecast widespread technological unemployment over the next 50 years. What’s your take on that? Do you agree with the authors?
John Danaher: I am wary of making bold predictions but I think these authors are on the right track. There are going to be profound changes in both the volume and quantity of paid employment over the next 50 years. Indeed, some of these changes are already taking place.
JAXenter: If the threat to paid employment is real, what should our plan B be?
John Danaher: I think the threat is real – even if paid employment does not disappear completely it is going to be less important in the future. What should we do in response? Well, that’s what my talk is about. Many people think that a Universal Basic Income (UBI) can address the problems arising from a lack of paid employment. But I think this is only partially correct. Work is about more than income. We need to think about the non-income-related goods of work and how they can be replaced in a world without work (or with much less work).
I’m going to consider the advantages of living in a world with total automation.
JAXenter: There are a lot of people who blame it all on automation but some claim that automation cannot take over all jobs. Should we embrace automation or fight against it?
John Danaher: I think we should embrace it. Resisting it seems both futile and undesirable. But this means we need to rethink what it takes to live a meaningful and worthwhile life. That’s really what my talk is going to focus on. I’m going to consider the advantages of living in a world with total automation. I’ll argue that a world of total automation could be a kind of utopia.
JAXenter: What skill sets will we need in a world where paid employment is no longer possible?
John Danaher: Well, if we achieve something akin to total automation we won’t need any skills – not in the strict sense anyway. But there are skills we should desire. The skills I consider in my talk all relate to sociality and game-playing, which I suggest will form the core of the good life in the post-work era.
If we achieve something akin to total automation we won’t need any skills.
JAXenter: What is the key message of your talk that everybody should retain?
John Danaher: That, for better or worse, work is a major source of meaning, satisfaction, and self-worth in the modern world and that we need to think about alternative sources of meaning, satisfaction, and self-worth if the threats to paid employment are real.
Thank you very much!
John Danaher will be delivering one talk at W-JAX which will focus on shedding some light on the following questions: Are those in the technology sector gradually building the machines that will render themselves obsolescent? Or should we be skeptical of these claims? If not, how can society handle the distributive crisis that will result from the death of paid employment? And how will humans find meaning and fulfillment in a world without work?