Maria Shanina
Thoughts on (un)employment in tech

Automation, recent layoffs across tech, and growing hysteria regarding AI taking over jobs in the nearest future made me think about what would happen to the creative labor market, for example, digital design jobs, in the foreseeable future: how it might change, what signals we can see of upcoming shifts, how we can predict the future outcomes and secure our jobs.

As Harari stated in her book "21 Lessons for the 21st Century" since the Industrial Revolution humans have been terrified by the chances of machines causing mass unemployment. This hasn’t happened as automation then has created many different jobs. Does it mean that we can exhale and imagine the same path humanity will take with the technological revolution?

In the past, humans were still able to find jobs because even with growing automation, no machines could replace their cognitive abilities, only physical jobs were given to robots. What happens today, as Susskind notices in Technological Unemployment, is that AI already outperforms humans. These systems learn about humans and their behavior and preferences, and offer personalized experiences and things that people will likely prefer. These systems observe, learn, research, and create. Though machines are more efficient in gathering and synthesizing data. They don’t work with rough data anymore, they understand emotions and they maintain conversations. Built into complex networks, they can recognize patterns efficiently and offer the solution that has the most chance to bring success.

Of all jobs in the market today, creative jobs like product design are probably the most susceptible to the new wave of automation. Can we envision a future where no humans would be needed to perform the jobs of product designers, UX designers, or researchers? Can these jobs be successfully performed by sophisticated machines and networks of systems?

Looking far ahead, fewer and fewer humans will be needed to design user interfaces and digital user experiences, or do research. Our tech industry fulfilled its purpose - it established effective communication between a computer and human in a way that the computer networks, systems and interfaces can improve themselves without human interference. It’s part of the progress that the capitalist market won’t agree to stop, even if economically it will cause unemployment. This poses a question about what the creative labor force can do to secure their career future.

One solution might be to co-exist with machines and make advantage of AI. There are a lot of opportunities that infotech and biotech can bring to the table. Sophisticated systems will require new ways of building and maintaining them, creating brand-new jobs and changing structures. Automation in general will free people from working on repeating tasks, potentially saving their time to invest in more meaningful activities. Should I mention work-life balance here and the recent notion of reverse engineering work, paying more attention to well-being and health, both physical and mental?

The challenge would be to create these new jobs and come up with accessible and affordable services for a fair and just society to prosper. There is a high chance that these sophisticated systems will be managed by a number of companies, however, they must be heavily governed and taxed to avoid societal discrepancy. The new capital surplus can be used as universal basic income paid to citizens as guaranteed regular payments, as well as to create free public services such as free access to education, healthcare, housing or transportation.

If we succeed in taking advantage of technological automation, making it economically safe to spend less time working, adapting universal basic income ideology, or creating jobs out of the care sector, I’m very positive about our future.

Copyright © Maria Shanina, 2024, Canada