Imagining the next 20 years of work

The world is changing at the fastest rate since the Industrial Revolution, and that’s all thanks to technology. I am a technological optimist – I think there are more opportunities than threats. But there are certainly some choppy waters we need to navigate over the next few years.

Tech is impacting every aspect of our lives – how we communicate, how we cooperate, and most acutely of all, how we work.

The internet has radically altered the global landscape, but we’ve only had it for about two decades. The next twenty years will render employment unrecognisable – we’ll be working in different ways, for different people, and we’ll be doing jobs that currently don’t exist.

But what does this mean for both employees and businesses, and the future self-employed? Are we leading the changes?

Living deliberately

I’m worried that we’re letting technology happen to us, rather than taking active decisions about how we want to implement it. I’m concerned that we’re building a new world in which power and capital is concentrated in ever fewer hands, rather than letting everyone share in the abundance that technology can create.

I think it’s crucial that we think more carefully about the impact technology is having on our lives, whether that’s on a personal level or a structural one. What does it mean that we entrust more and more of our data to huge data warehousing companies? Every time we open a browser window we make a data footprint – but who’s reading that footprint, and for what purpose?

Are we losing jobs?

One company that seems to sum up this shift well is Otto. They make lorries – but they’re not like any lorries you’ve seen before: they drive themselves. They’re most fuel efficient, and they’re controlled by computers and data, rather than by drivers.

At first glance, this might seem attractive. Otto lorries are used to transport fuel. Lower costs for the fuel companies means lower petrol prices at the pump, right? But hang on, what about the drivers? What about the tens of thousands of people currently employed in haulage? Where do they go?

As I’ve already said, in this new world we’re concentrating power in fewer and fewer hands. I’m worried about the people at the bottom of this tree – the people driving lorries, or the customer service operators who are being laid off in favour of AI chatbots.

There is an alternate reality in which the displaced jobs are replaced with jobs and careers that we haven’t even imagined. But one thing is certain: we have an opportunity to radically re-evaluate the role of work in our lives and in society.

Call for collaboration

That’s why we’ve made this video. In it, I want to set out my vision of the future of work and the world – one in which everyone has a stake. I’m calling on business owners to think differently about the benefits that technology is bringing, and to consider more carefully how to build a system that works for everyone.

This is a call for collaboration and discussion. I want to hear from owners of businesses of every size, as well as employees, to explore their own ideas about the future of work and, more broadly, about the future of capitalism. Please do share your ideas at @jstockwood.

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