What Will Become of Us When Automation Takes Over More of Our Jobs?

Some argue we’ll have time to do fulfilling work, while others say we’ll become lazier

29 April 2016

In the not too distant future, autonomous cars are likely to replace cab drivers. Robots have already started to take over farming tasks such as harvesting crops, and could soon become line cooks at fast-food restaurants. It’s only a matter of time before such technologies become commonplace. But what will the millions of workers who hold those jobs do?

Technology replacing human workers is nothing new. But as automation begins to take over nearly every trade, there might be still fewer jobs available, leading to higher unemployment. Some people conjecture that government might step in and provide what’s known as a universal basic income—a form of social security in which all citizens receive a sum of money with no strings attached to cover their basic needs.

As supporters of basic income argue in The New York Times, machine learning and automation could produce so much economic surplus that we could collectively afford to liberate much of humanity from labor. We’d all be freer, they say, to become, say, artists, scholars, entrepreneurs. Research is taking place to understand what people’s motivations might be in a “postwork” age, looking into whether we will feel fulfilled and productive, or just lazy.

Do you believe the coming automation will lead people to take on more fulfilling roles? Or will they be underemployed and less productive? What might such changes mean for society?

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