The past century, we have been able to outsource more and more work to increasingly efficient machines and automated systems. One of the consequences is that fewer and fewer people are working in agriculture. Meanwhile, that same agriculture has become much more productive. The same goes for other industries, both in the private and the public sphere. So why is it that many of us are still so busy, and only seem to get longer working weeks? One of the reasons researchers suggest, is our addiction to consumption which forces us to generate a certain income. Brad Pitt’s character in the movie Fight Club has this to say about it: ‘Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.’
Anthropologist David Graeber, of the London School of Economics, suggests an entirely different cause for the long working weeks: the type of work. In his essay, On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs, he writes: ‘There are countless people who spend their entire working lives on jobs of which they indicate themselves that these are actually obsolete’. Examples are telemarketers, human resource managers, social media strategists and many administrative jobs. An interesting question: what does that pointlessness mean exactly, and what do these people consider so pointless about their jobs?
It cannot be denied that we are on the eve of major changes in the working sphere. According to Ray Kurzweil, an American inventor, futurologist and businessman, who has been making accurate predictions for decades, machine intelligence will exceed human intelligence in a few decades, which will lead to singularity-technological changes which will become so rapid and comprehensive that they will effectively mean a turning point in human history. With that in mind, various futurologists describe all sorts of scenarios and examples. Take, for instance, the fusion of biological and non-biological intelligence, software-based human beings and ultra-high levels of intelligence, which spreads through the galaxy at the speed of light. The risks of Artificial Intelligence (AI) are discussed more and more, for will we remain capable of controlling AI, or will we end up in a Terminator-like film scenario? The opinions on this in the scientific community still vary hugely.
Even if the predicted ‘singularity’ is considered as distant future image and we do not take these scenarios, possibilities and views into consideration, then technological changes will still come with many uncertainties. You don’t have to be a psychic to see that automation and robotization will change an increasing amount of functions of people and organizations. More and more ‘old style’ jobs will disappear, only a part of which are replaced by different jobs. I recently spoke with Pieter Abbeel, international leading Artificial Intelligence researcher at Berkeley University and the right-hand man of Elon Musk, in the Open AI programme, and he says: ‘We probably have to deal with sudden, very sudden unemployment.’ The question is how bad that is, if we find the right way to deal with it. These developments will positively change the way we live, if we are willing. We will have more leisure and our income will become more disconnected from the number of hours we work. In a world of plenty, less is obligatory, while more is allowed. Perhaps ‘working’ is no longer the right word in this context and more fitting definitions would be ‘creating’, ‘playing’ or ‘doing things together’.
For a large part of western society, the technological developments have already practically created a context with possibilities in which we can reflect upon ourselves more and more, on who we are as human beings. How do we behave in relation to technology? Who or what are we if AI becomes more intelligent than we are? We will live increasingly consciously: Who am I? What can I do? What do I want to do? On what do I wish to spend my energy in the time I get to walk around on this earth? This process is already in progress. More and more people start to ask themselves these questions. Right on the very moment we manage to contain our smartphone addictions, technological developments start to work as a catalyst on the search for the answers to existential questions. These questions are no longer considered ‘soft’, but are seen as basic conditions for giving purpose and meaning to your life and work. This means that purpose and meaningfulness will become even more important.
Jordan Peterson, professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto and author of the book Maps of Meaning, discusses the meaning of life, which can be traced in all sorts of cultures. You can only find meaning by actually committing yourself to something. Just by living, you are all-in: it will even kill you in the end. So, you might as well play the best game you can make out of it. Aim at the highest good. You’ll only discover the amount of good you can bring to the world by doing it. It’s about taking responsibility for who you are and who you can be. The targets you give yourself have to be achievable yet challenging. At that moment, you need a willingness to be engaged in something. That makes the journey worth it, because you will always keep developing yourself. That makes the problems you encounter during your voyage worth your effort and attention. In that, there is far less difference between work and personal life than we might think. People who have a vision about the direction of their life and who do work which matches with that vision, are far more motivated and achieve better results.
The changing reality hugely influences the way you look at the work you do and the importance you attach to the organization or the network which you work for or with. This requires employees and freelancers to know themselves: to know what they truly wish to contribute to, to know what they’re good at, and to know what they wish to develop. They have to be able to sell their services in a competitive world full of AI. This may apply even more to leaders and entrepreneurs who wish to attract the best people. An authentic leader knows his own inner motivations and qualities, is focused on growth as a human being. From that point, he can give his organization a meaningful perspective. Progressive organizations are no longer just vehicles for earning money; they contribute to a more beautiful world and they are a platform for the personal development of their employees. And oh yes, meanwhile they have learned how to integrate that rapidly developing technology into their business. Is it an easy thing, that which leaders represent? No, leadership and entrepreneurship might require more inspiration and quality than they have ever done before. But do you really have a choice, if you reflect on yourself and look inside? Aim for the highest and go all-in.