Saturday, March 28, 2009

The End of Work: are humans an outdated product on the labor market?

The End of Work
Jeremy Rifkin published a book in 1995 called, "the end of work". I frequent libraries a lot, and i happened to see the title of this book on one of those 5 cent racks that libraries use to sell books they have too many of, or that are damaged. I had to buy it after reading the back. I am only two chapters in, but this book is brilliant. I've already scoped out Rifkin's newer books in a plan to read more of his work. The book forsees the economic meltdown and attributes it to the inevitable change from human manpower to robotic and machine manpower. The book was written in 1995 and in the first two chapters seven or eight predictions that Rifkin has made has come true: large company downsizing, automated systems, overseas production, layoff plans, buyouts, early retirement. Bam, Bam, need to read this book.

Rise of the Machines
Extreme worriers some may jump to the conclusion that this book is predicting a dooms day of "Rise of the Machines" proportions, referring to the Terminator movies of course (which are some of the greatest action movies ever made- as long as you ignore the TV show, #3 and #4 if it exists). Rifkin's book does not go that far into histeria, but does pose the question: as soon as we become useless in the job market, what will humans do? It is a question we should have answered long before millions fall into unemployment in 2009, we are. I wish I would have read this book a decade ago, although my soda drinking idiot of a brain at that time, wouldn't have known what to make of it.

That main question has been plaguing my mind ever since I got to read those first two chapters. Why havn't we been planning what to do for work once the machines do most of our jobs, and what are those jobs? Have we become an outdated worker model? Could
Humans be an outdated product on the labor market?

Robots Vs Humans
Think about it, compare us to robots and machines. Robots are more consistent, less emotional, need less energy, less pay, are easier to control, more predictable, and better at most jobs. I will easily agree that there are still many jobs that a robot or a machine cannot do, manage, teach, specialized labor, coordinate, organize, etc. However, those specialized jobs are only a slight fraction of the entire labor market. Our technology, our creations are taking our jobs from us.

Research for Dollars
However, I haven't read any further in the book yet, but I have a slight solution proposal to this problem. We need to figure out what we can contribute to the world once all of our menial, drone-like jobs are now being done by computers. We need to find something to do that is worth something. The answer is RESEARCH. We start research teams for everything, building an insane database of every possible thing we can. Not many of us are experts on many things, but we could be assigned research like taking insane notes about growing a certain plant, lets say cat grass. The results are logged into a grand database and compared with 1 million other results about this plant, and through mass information we could understand why cat grass grows well, in which climate it excels, in which pot it prefers, next to which plant, how much water, and the list goes on and on. Each one of us could earn income doing research, everything from eating a certain diet, growing certain plants, taking new vitamins, vehicles, tools, social, emotional, physical and the lists are endless. You would get to choose your research subjects, and be rewarded for taking diligent and correct notes. As a race we could amass an absolutely astounding amount of information about our world, and feel good about our work.

Playing Games for Work
As research could be a huge part of the work we would do, so could 'playing games'. Millions of people will get a check from the government for playing World of Warcraft....okay, that's not really what I meant. However, if you design games like World of Warcraft (which is a massive multiple player online game) to solve real problems in the world, you could have people playing games and solving problems and earning money. With proper engineers, I can easily envision a future game in which players attempt to build the fastest skyscraper with limited construction materials. Players that advance to pro levels would unwittingly be actually building these towers in the real world, while they think they are playing a game. Anyone read "Ender's Game" (if not you should)?

Human Computation
If you think the idea of playing games as work sounds stupid, watch this video. The video is a lecture by Luis Von Ahn is a brilliant young professor who makes a great argument proving humans current value, in comparison to computers, he called them "games with a purpose". He has already designed a number of games that solve huge problems, the video features them. Would you like to play one of his games? GWAP is the site which features many games, a multi-player ESP game, tag a tune, verbose, squigl, and match em. These are brilliant fun games that actual solve legitimate problems. Spend just 10 minutes and try each game.

Where do we go from here?

If you read my blog posts from the last few months, you will see that I am always wondering what I should do, besides being an artist. How should I prepare for the world around me? I find it a question that everyone, from every walk of life should ask themselves over and over again. I think we all have a duty to understand what problems we want to solve, and focus on finding the answer(s). We need to make sure our 'needs' are met, by being creative or making good choices, but everything after that is what we do to change the world around us, and become the best people we can be. Make a difference in the world. I know if we work together we can find away to use our talents and intelligence as human beings and together with robots ascend into a greater level of living, that previous generations could not even fathom. Let us get there.

No comments: