A series of short stories on the future of work in the digital age depicts radical technological takeovers of varying degrees
The technological takeover of society by the year 2035 is almost inevitable, according to the RSA and the Orwell Foundation.
A series on the future of work in an age of radical technologies lays out four possible scenarios that our society will follow in the next 20 years.
Whether it be in the form of a total overhaul where robots are rife in all industries, to hyper-surveillance states where humans are quantifiable commodities, or a slightly more pleasant scenario where humans push back against the tech tsunami, each depict a world where the technological advances lead to major shifts in the way we live.
The Big Tech Economy
The opening scenario, that of the ‘Big Tech’ society, foresees technology having developed at a rapid pace, leading to widespread automation in the form of self-driving vehicles and versatile robots becoming commonplace in sectors like hospitality and healthcare.
Unemployment and economic insecurity have crept upwards, with people lucky to find 20 hours work a week. But this is tempered by widely felt improvements in living standards as technology lowers the cost of everyday goods, as the quality of public services improves, and as people find new outlets for meaning and purpose in their considerable leisure time.
“The ultimate winners are Silicon Valley tech giants GAFA (Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple), who not only complete their capture of the digital economy but enter new sectors, hoovering up the profits from productivity growth and transferring them overseas,” says the report.
“The dizzying pace of technological change leaves workers and unions incapable of responding, and well-oiled PR machines and highly visible CSR programmes help the tech giants to stifle dissent.
The Empathy Economy
In a more hopeful depiction of the future, an ‘Empathy Economy’ is where humans have become wary of the technological takeover and have forced the major companies to regulate themselves.
“Rather than squeeze, pressure and scrutinise workers, technology is applied to augment their capabilities, from virtual reality being used by retail workers to role-play customer interactions, to personal trainers using wearables to create bespoke training regimes for their clients,” it states.
The Precision Economy
The more frightening of all is the ‘Precision Economy’ where a deep surveillance state prevails, with businesses installing sensors across their supply chains.
A truly dystopian reality prevails where wearables track staff activity and manager-analysts then review metrics and judge staff on a one-to-five star ranking system.
Equipped with predictive algorithms and real-time organisational data, employers embrace on-demand labour strategies.
Workers with in-demand talents or high ratings see enhanced pay and opportunities for progression but many are left to battle it out for piecemeal work that does not pay well, and offers little control over working hours and minimal task discretion.
The Exodus Economy
Finally, there is the ‘Exodus Economy’ which is the response to a 2008-level financial crash and unemployment skyrockets, leading to new austerity measures. With that will come mass protests much like the ones we are seeing by the ‘yellow vests’ in France.
“Disgruntled with a failing economic system, workers take to the streets in gilets jaunes style protests. Unions organise mass ‘log-offs’, bringing the gig economy to its knees. Others leave urban areas altogether in search of alternative lifestyles.”
The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) is a community which seeks to unite people and ideas to resolve the biggest challenges of our time.
The Orwell Foundation, as the name gives away, is an organisation set up to perpetuate the achievements of famed British writer George Orwell.
The series, ‘Four Futures Love, Labour, and Language in 2035’ can be found via the following link: https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/images/blogs/2019/07/four-futures-short-stories.pdf