The Future Of Work is both exciting and scary, but hardly new

The excitement, fear and other deep emotions Technology and Automation change bring to the Workforce are real, but hardly new.

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By Diego A. Navia

future of work jobs
Courtesy BBC Capital. Miriam Quick and Piero Zagami

Technology advances are the hallmark of modern civilization. Over the years they’ve brought hope, opportunity, excitement fear and several other deeply-rooted emotions. The impact of technology on the way work is delivered and organized has been a key question for centuries. Given the overwhelming impact of Information Technology, over the last decade or so the “Future Of Work” term has gotten increased attention. The term has been associated with a forward-thinking innovative body of knowledge describing this change, even if deemed somewhat theoretical, as any prediction might be. 

Technology has shaped Work for a long time

Understanding how work will change and thus how our livelihoods will be impacted, is a question that  has lingered for centuries as society deals with progress and change associated with technology and its adoption. Information Technology disruption is the type of disruption most relevant today but in the past we had mechanization and other types of applied disruptive technology driving change in the workplace. There are many examples that illustrate this disruption over several centuries:
















Electric Light






Personal Computer

Centuries-old Future Of Work Predictions

Accordingly, predictions about the Future of Work have been made for centuries, stoking both hopes and fears. 

In fact, several quotes have been documented over the years about america’s long and complicated track record dreading robots would take our jobs, as depicted in “The Future of Work,  a History”. 

“It begins to look as if machines had come into conflict with men—as if the onward march of machines into every corner of our industrial life had driven men out of the factory and into the ranks of the unemployed.”

“the inexorable increase of productivity, far outstripping opportunities for employment or investment, must mean permanent and growing unemployment, and permanent and growing debt, until capitalism itself collapsed under the double load.”

A “Unimate”—for “Universal Automation”—robot made an appearance on “The Tonight Show,” where it delighted Johnny Carson by placing a golf ball in a cup, opening and pouring a beer, waving a bandleader’s baton and grabbing and swinging around an accordion.

"new, thinking machines now have “skills equivalent to a high school diploma,” and that they would soon take over the service industry

In general terms, we tend to get caught in the period of time we live in and forget others may have faced similar challenges. Over the last several years the threat of robots -whether physical or virtual in services (i.e. RPA)- as well as Artificial Intelligence have irrupted in our personal and professional lives, threatening to disrupt jobs and livelihoods. 

The past can help us navigate the future

The fact is most of these technologies aren’t that new, even if the decreasing cost of technology and their exponentially increasing power makes them much more commonplace and viable than at any other point in history.  The impact of technology and automation in the execution of work  as well as the fears, excitement and anxiety associated with them, is even less of a novelty and thus we can learn from the past to chart our own future. To chart this path it is important  to answer some basic questions about the Future Of Work. 

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