We Know How We Will Work, But What The Hell Are We Going To Do?

I think that we have a pretty good idea of how people are going to work in the future.  I have made investments in this space, and blogged about it here, here, here, and here.  But, what the heck are we going to do?

The technological revolution is so complete, and so fast, and so breathtaking.  Commoditized jobs are being eaten by software, robots, and now artificial intelligence.  It’s extremely scary to some people.

My friend USV VC Albert Wenger has blogged about some solutions.  He advocates for basic income.  I sort of like the concept, but wonder a lot about the application.  The other day he had an “ask me anything” segment and people wanted to know about what sort of things they were going to be doing in the future.

I think there is a general fear in the US right now.  I have seen people like Marc Andreessen tweet about the future and fear.  He satirizes it a lot.  But, I think that fear manifests itself in different ways.  Fear of immigration.  The wives tale is that if immigrants come into the country they will take jobs from citizens.  The fact is that isn’t true.  There is legitimate fear for letting in illegal aliens that will become participants in the welfare state and legitimate fear in making sure we screen for terrorists, but on the whole immigration is a winner for America.

There is fear of technology taking all our jobs.  Look at me.  I was a pretty good floor trader and I was replaced by an algorithm.  Anesthesiologists are being replaced in some minor surgical procedures today, and no doubt the footprint will expand.  Lower level lawyers are being replaced by artificial intelligence which can read and sort through paperwork and briefs faster.  The fear isn’t just with lower paid workers in factory or fast food jobs.

I have two answers.

The first is when technological revolutions happen, new jobs that we can’t even think of are created.  This happens time and time again.  When they invented the wheel, strong guys that moved stuff around had to become strong guys that loaded carts.  Sure, people will have to be retrained to undertake many of the new jobs that are created.

It’s important to note that they are better off undertaking that retraining on their own that doing it through a government program.  In the book, Personnel Economics in Practice, there is a whole section on pages 45-51 on investments in education, with the math to back my claim up.

The second is not foreign to anyone.  We have heard that content is king.  Here are three examples of it;

I was having a discussion with some friends.  I have 2 daughters. One is doing a creative job with an agency. and the other started her own photo business.  My friend’s daughter is a serious artist.

Think of it in terms of supply/demand, difficulty, barriers to entry.

My daughter that works for an agency can adapt, charge a higher price as long as she delivers quantifiable results to her customers. There are barriers to entry that include network, reputation etc.  Her work is sort of difficult because you have to be able to look at numbers, translate it to strategy, and explain it to customers in plain words.  She also has to react quickly to things happening in real time out in the market.

My daughter that is a photographer can’t charge as high a price, because the barriers to entry to become a photographer are much lower. But, as soon as she establishes network, reputation etc, she can start to charge a higher price. Eventually, if she gets good enough to reach an artistic level, (Annie Leibovitz), she can become very specialized and charge a very high price.

My friend’s daughter is a serious artist with high barriers to entry, and can charge a high price since virtually every piece of content she creates is unique. There are very few people with her talent that can become serious artists so supply is really constrained.  She also has to rely on the market, and hope that there is demand for the kind of art that she is doing.

With all the ways technology is making our lives more efficient, the only way to be pessimistic is concentrate on your fears.  Better to use your fear as a fire to look for new opportunity.  The technological innovations that are happening today are creating more and more opportunities for more and more people.  That makes me really optimistic about the future.




  • Dan Kunze

    I run an HVAC distributor and there is an incredible shortage of technicians. The median age of my customers is probably pushing late 40’s or early 50’s. Most kids have no interest in getting into hands on jobs.
    I can see this playing out across many industries. If you are young and have no direction and are even just OK with your hands, you could apply yourself and be a technician. All of those autonomous vehicles will still need maintenance. Computer networks need hardware fixed.
    I think that the vocations are dead for now, but once young kids realize they will be able to command a price and live virtually wherever they want and pick their job, that it will be more attractive in the future.

    • this is a great point. some service industries will change, but not going away.

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