Orwell Foundation foresees dystopian future if tech is not regulated

The technological takeover of society by the year 2035 is almost inevitable, according to the Royal Society of Arts and the Orwell Foundation.

A series on the future of work in an age of radical technologies created by the Orwell Foundation and RSA has come up with four possible scenarios that our society will follow in the next 20 years. 

Whether it be in the form of a Big Tech takeover where robots are rife in all industries and employment drastically decreases, to hyper-surveillance states where humans are quantifiable bots battling it out for minimal low-paid work, or a slightly more pleasant scenario where tech is regulated, each depict a world where the technological advances lead to major shifts in the way we live.  

The ‘Big Tech’ society

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 Exodus Economy

The ‘Exodus Economy’ would be a similar response to the one seen after the 2008-level financial crash, with unemployment skyrocketing, 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 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 will see 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 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 roleplay customer interactions, to personal trainers using wearables to create bespoke training regimes for their clients,” it states.

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 here