Techno-optimism or techno-pessimism? McKinsey Global Institute video series ponders the future of automation

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Will automation bring about a near utopian future where work is done by machines and humans working together or will it bring societal collapse when we no longer have purpose and become obsolete?

A four-part video series from The McKinsey Global Institute poses these questions and comes to a conclusion that although the future of work is uncertain, it will bring dynamic changes that have not been experienced before in our history.

Automation has the potential to change nearly half of all current jobs as we learn to work alongside artificial intelligence and robots. This could spell the end of the 9-to-5 workday and eliminate our conception of work in the near future, according to the series’ interviewees. Whether we are preparing for these disruptions or sitting idle is what concerns the series’ experts, a mixture of academics and business leaders.

Interviewees include NYU professors Arun Sundararajan and Vasant Dhar, LinkedIn co-founder Allen Blue, Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel, former CEO Carl Camden, McKinsey senior partner Katy George, MGI partners Michael Chui and Susan Lund and many others. They were gathered together for MGI and New York University’s The Digital Future of Work summit back in April and the videos are the product of this important conference.

Further discussion in subsequent videos center on building skills so the workforce is prepared for an automated future, the increasing obsolescence of the 9-to-5 job and suggestions on how business leaders and policymakers can shape the automation economy.

The experts outline potential solutions for adapting to this reality, like changing traditional education into a life-long pursuit of skills and how politicians can create a better safety net to help the displaced who are not able to transition to the new work.

Though some of the interviewees portend a scary future where automation technology replaces the need for a large workforce altogether, they also say there is enough optimism that this latest industrial revolution will not have painful long-term consequences if we act now to mitigate them.

Some choice quotes from The Digital Future of Work video series:

  • Michael Chui: “Going forward, we’re going to see more of these technologies which involve robotics or artificial intelligence, again, working side by side with human beings. Even if you’re on a shop floor or a factory floor, you’re seeing these robots, which are now safe for humans to work alongside.”
  • Mike Rosenbaum, CEO of Arena: “The skills that I would recommend an 18-year-old think about, which may or may not fit in the traditional definition of skills, are to try stuff that you never thought about.”
  • Stephane Kasriel: “There are all sorts of things that are being designed right now to facilitate this transition from a world where everybody needs to be in the same office and everybody’s constrained by a traditional 9-to-5 job, to a world where people can live closer to their communities. They can live in a place where the cost of living and the public school system, or whatever other considerations, allow them to live where they want to be.”
  • Tom Siebel, chairman and CEO of C3 IoT : There most certainly is a role for policy makers to facilitate the transition. But in my experience, policy makers tend to deal with problems after they reach crisis levels, not anticipate the problem and head it off. The social implications of what’s happening in information technology, communication technology, artificial intelligence, robotics, while many of them are very positive, many of them are highly deleterious. We’re going to create a class of people who are unemployed, permanently unemployed, and unemployable. And we need to figure out how to deal with that.

Join the Discussion: Watch the videos and tell us on our Facebook page what you think about the future of work? Are you a techno-optimist or techno-pessimist?

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