In a recent email to entrepreneurs interested in his Abundance 360 program, Peter Diamandis posed some questions: How do we deal with the coming challenges of technological unemployment? How will we tame the social unrest that will potentially ensue? Who will we blame?
Concern over the rise of robots and computers emerged in the 80’s—just to be clear, that’s the 1980’s, since century turns always reveal unease about social and technological advances. The auto industry in particular braced for a mass expulsion of its human work force; this industry has always rapidly integrated technological advances. Now, almost forty years later, if you tour the floor of any auto manufacturing plant, you see that the heavy lifting is indeed carried out by robotics. The major concern stemming from these integrations is the large number of people forecast to be displaced and the rate that this shift will occur.
Most industries currently require an ever-increasing amount of training and continuing education for their rank-and-file employees because the alternative is human resources wasted in irrelevance and obsolescence. Despite these efforts, though, the need for personnel continues to decrease as technology improves efficiency. Certain positions become unnecessary, resulting in trained, skilled, and educated members of the workforce desperate to find employment outside of the manufacturing sector.
Diamantis explains that this employment void will not necessarily need to be filled with people working in traditional occupations, like manufacturing, because he projects that technological progress will make it possible for a family to survive on less monetary income. The time commitment to meet financial obligations will no longer determine how people live their lives. Occupations and similar obligations will only consume a few hours per month. So what will we do with all of that free time at our disposal? There is only so much Netflix a person can watch! So where will people find purpose?
As technology displaces portions of the workforce, the search for purpose and validation is potentially going to be a serious issue. I believe that we can draw insight from recovery programs designed to guide people suffering from depression and/or addiction. One of the most effective components of many programs is service work. People in recovery experience significant impact as they fulfill a valuable role in helping others. These people use their own experiences to help others in similar situations, and the result is often a dramatic decrease in recurrence of symptoms or relapse. The feeling of usefulness and significance that accompanies taking a role in the life of another person, especially when that role has a positive impact, is one of the most fulfilling experiences a person can have. People treat themselves better, and hold themselves more accountable, when they know that others are relying on them.
It makes sense to me that we will see the progression from paid occupation to vocational service work a natural social evolution, similar to that of humans progressing from hunter-gatherers living in tribes to individuals contributing to the survival and comfort of the species only in exchange for pay. Thousands and thousands of people with substantial time available to commit to unpaid service work will be able to facilitate progress on a scale that is currently unthinkable. Service work will no longer be enacted by skeleton crews, doing their best with limited funding and small bits of spare time to make an impact.
Imagine if, when Hurricane Katrina hit, there had been tens of thousands of people available, with significant technological and monetary resources to come to the rescue. Imagine advanced transportation options to help get to people and get them out of danger without putting additional people at risk. Imagine being able to transfer precise amounts of food, medicine, and other life-saving goods to the displaced at 100 times the speed currently readily available. Imagine advanced computing power capable of implementing efficient and effective strategies to address all of the needs of the people affected, providing access to medical records, accounting missing persons in real time. Imagine AI and drone tech doing search and rescue with minimal risk of human collateral damage. You get the picture. Not only would this type of volunteer work force be available to offer aid, its resources would not significantly draw from resources deployed elsewhere. Advances in land and air travel would allow for rapid movement of people and resources anywhere in the world in a fraction of the time.
In the process of this transition from occupational paid work to vocational service work, a huge discrepancy will arise across the globe between struggle and abundance. Certain populations will achieve liberation from the occupational culture long before others have even risen above finding balance with their natural environment. But ultimately, the goal of the global workforce will be to bring the entire world into sustainable abundance, where people’s biggest choice will be how they can be of the utmost value to the world as a whole. People will be able to provide value—based purely on their willingness to be of value to the world.
This opportunity to spend a significant amount of time being of service to fellow humans, animals, or the environment will be one possible bridge to abundance.