Today we see yet another report threatening that AI will replace our jobs. PWC estimate that around 30% of existing UK jobs could face automation over the next 15 years. The estimates may vary slightly by percentage and timescale, but they are all pointing in the same direction.
This report is more positive than others, claiming that new AI-related technologies will boost productivity and generate additional jobs elsewhere in the economy. Along with this they warn that income inequality may rise. They paint a scenario of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ with male workers being at greater potential risk of job automation than women, with education as the key differentiating factor for individual workers.
We have a world based on full time employment with people needing to work 5 days a week to maintain an acceptable standard of living. Despite the automation of jobs that we have seen so far, we are suffering from long hours working and high levels of stress. We have organisational cultures where the people who put in the long hours are seen as being ‘loyal’ and ‘dedicated’. People who are ‘flexible workers’ or ‘part timers’ are still seen as less committed.
What happened to the life of leisure that was coming with all this automation? Robots and computers were going to do the boring work so humans were left to do the interesting stuff. We were all going to work for three days a week and have four day ‘weekends’ because productivity improved so much with using technology. We would all be sitting on a sunny beach even when we were working, because technology had freed us up from traditional work constraints.
The technology has done the reverse of what we expected. Instead of producing the relaxed environment where we can have enjoyable, healthy working lives, we are overloaded with hundreds of emails in our inbox and are stressed out trying to keep up. We are working 24/7, constantly looking at our smartphones wherever we are. Our personal lives have been invaded, but don’t blame the technology.
The problem lies with the way work is organised and the organisation cultures that encourage bad working practices. If we want people to have healthy balanced lives then we need jobs that deliver the ‘life of leisure’ promised by technology. As AI takes over more human work and there is less to go round, let’s not have half the population stressed out working long hours and the other half unemployed. Let’s all have a sensible, satisfying amount of paid work in our lives and also have time for family, friends, hobbies, sports and a healthier lifestyle.