With the rapid evolution of AI and the development of super machines that perform human tasks faster and in a more efficient way, one analyst is predicting that a new class will emerge by 2050: the useless class.
The CBRE’s 2015 survey, Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace, concluded that 50% of occupations today will no longer exist in 2025.
It is predictions like this that led writer Yuval Noah Harari to comment in a 2017 article in the Guardian: “Consequently, by 2050 a new class of people might emerge – the useless class. People who are not just unemployed, but unemployable”.
It’s a bleak worldview, but one which underscores a challenge that we are all going to need to wrestle with in coming years.
The most prominent solution at the moment is Universal Basic Income (UBI) – the notion of paying everybody in society a living wage regularly and unconditionally.
It’s considered a way of ensuring economic safety and security for everyone in a world where more than half of jobs have been automated out of existence.
The first country to test the real possibilities of UBI is Finland – its two-year trial involving 2,000 people is due to report back at the end of 2018. Meanwhile, the idea is attracting support from interests as disparate as the UK Green Party, Bernie Sanders, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.
American anthropologist David Graeber offers a far more optimistic vision of the future than Harari. Graeber points to the creative possibilities of a world without work, citing the postwar years as evidence:
“The postwar years, when people worked less, and it was easier to be on the dole, produced beat poetry avant-garde theatre, 50-minute drum solos, and all Britain’s great pop music – art forms that take time to produce and consume.”
Could a world without work open the door to a more creative and rewarding existence?
However, in a 2018 article in the Guardian, Andy Beckett warns against simply accepting these comfortable views of the future.
He points out that in 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that by the 21st century, technological advances would leave to an age of leisure and abundance.
Following the aggressively pro-business social and legislative changes of the 1980s onwards, we are now more deeply embedded in the world of work than ever.
There is no doubt that the changes technology is bringing offers new possibilities to shape the world in which we live and the way in which we live in it.
However, the very different visions offered by Harari, Graeber and Beckett illustrate just how proactive we all need to be in shaping that future.
Read Andy Beckett’s analysis at www.guardian.com.