Our Antidotes to Technological Unemployment

Our Antidotes to Technological Unemployment

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Our Antidotes to Technological Unemployment

As we automate the functions of business, we sow questions about the future of human work.

Dystopian visions of technological unemployment are easy, since they basically just extrapolate much of the bad stuff technology does today into an unknown tomorrow. Though these darker futures oddly captivate me, I find myself also working hard to paint a more optimistic, perhaps even utopian, possibility in my head:

Might technology strip us of the more scripted and robot-like work so that what remains for us is that which makes us most human?

This five-minute-read, takes a look at human initiative and human connection as potential sources of longer-term differentiation from artificial intelligence. 

Also a special shout-out to David Amerland, John Ellis, Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales and Steve Bonin for their contributions to the short video clip attached in this piece. 

#technologicalunemployment   #ai   #jobs   #artificialintelligence  


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  1. Gideon Rosenblatt Thanks very much for the mention.

  2. None of us can know whether or for how long this human source of differentiation will last, but it is important to understand that for the foreseeable future it is much more important than our Hollywood visions of the future would have us believe.

    That really hit it for me Gideon Rosenblatt. I think you really clarified difference here. Human volition.. initiative and connection. These things separate us from machines currently, AND also in our work. 

    Totally reminds me of Eric Schmidt’s smart creative. Someone who demonstrates more than an ability to “work”, but also pours initiative, connection, passion, who they are.. into that work.

     “What I am suggesting here is that if you’re a human being looking to avoid technological unemployment in the coming age of artificial intelligence, initiative and human connection are pretty good bets.”

    This statement is awesome and so evident in our shift to social business. The show you reference is a perfect example of those exclusive human traits in action and enhanced by technology. Not quite blended.. yet  😉

    Thanks for the shout out.. it was awesome having you on the show!

  3. Gideon Rosenblatt perfect framing of the entire AI question and the fear of uncertainty that surrounds it. 

  4. John Ellis excellent points and great quotes from the article

  5. Thanks Steve Bonin… Your question during the show made for a great moment to capture. 🙂 

  6. thanks John Ellis 

  7. This piece has really addressed a question that has been pestering me since CPG Grey’s famous video on the subject.  The answer supplied (and the justifications offered for that answer) seem novel and well thought out. 

    If technology is better at algorithmic tasks, we are better at being ourselves – at being real and interesting and in-relationship-with.  Perhaps our greatest advantage lay not in being more like computers but in being more human. – That does sound like the sort of thing you can’t outsource to a program because it’s basic authenticity, of which there can only be one (by definition).

    Granted, there will be increasing cases where it’s hard to tell the difference between actual human contact and AI but that will make wanting to know we are connecting with a real human being all the more important to us.

    This piece has really made me think in new directions.  I’m going to have to ponder these ideas for a few days at least.

    Thanks for the post Gideon Rosenblatt !

  8. So I have to ask Gideon Rosenblatt (I’m starting to feel like that annoying student that’s always asking “but why?”), you say:

    “Initiative and connection are two of the attributes that most differentiate humans in a work environment, and not surprisingly, I’ve found them to be an excellent compass in choosing who to hire for a job.”

    So, if these attributes are setting individuals apart from others… Why is it that all of the others, those you don’t hire, don’t possess these naturally human attributes? Do they have them and just don’t know how to use them? Have they been conditioned not to? But then why are some conditioned while others aren’t?

    I personally have an answer to this question but I want to know yours first 😀

  9. Oh, but love the article Gideon 😀 And thank you so much for the shout out! My questions come from sincere interest and I desire to learn… I promise!

  10. Thanks John Ellis, Steve Bonin, David Amerland and John Wehrle. What’s so hard about writing about this stuff is that the truth is we just don’t know what the future will hold. Technology moves in ways that are not really predictable.

    We have folks like Ray Kurzweil who do great analysis about where processing speeds will be in 20-30 years and what that should enable. But the truth is, when we get into domains previously occupied primarily by philosophers, we just don’t know how much is art and how much is nature. Volition, for example, could prove extremely difficult to design. Or it could simply emerge one day when we get the conditions right. 

  11. Gideon Rosenblatt – when you say “when we get into domains previously occupied primarily by philosophers” I have to agree. Furthermore, to the extent that your article proves prescient, I think we may be heading towards a world where people become more philosophical – where there are more philosophers.

    As to Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales point – I can attest to the fact that while every human being has the inherent ability to be authentic and thoughtful, not everyone embodies these traits to the same degree.

  12. I love those kinds of questions, Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales, and I can’t wait to hear your answer to this one. 

    So, here’s my take: I think that we humans struggle deeply with the meaning of our existence. At a most basic level, we seek to compensate or make meaning by seeking union with other, or by expressing our individuality and trying to leave a dent in the world. Both of these expressions of humanity have a shadow aspect and a light aspect, and often times the shadow aspects of these expressions express themselves as scripts that shape our behavior and who we think we are. 

    The people I know who seem to struggle the most with these scripts, to become overwhelmed with them, are those who seem to somehow lose contact with the deeper truth behind these aspects of ourselves. 

    That’s my sense. What’s your take? 

  13. Gideon Rosenblatt Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales John Wehrle 

    It is true that many of those that struggle with their demons become overwhelmed and fall into the shadow world of their own device, but those that struggle and win become the greatest proponents of self awareness.

    It is the same with human authenticity, those that have learned to get along without it and lead comfortable lives will likely not struggle to develop it.  As humans we make our greatest gains in the face of adversity or necessity.

  14. “The people I know who seem to struggle the most with these scripts, to become overwhelmed with them, are those who seem to somehow lose contact with the deeper truth behind these aspects of ourselves.”

    I see real truth in this Gideon Rosenblatt and it actually connects to my answer, and it makes me so sad to admit I am partially a part of the problem in my answer. I think it has something to do with our education system honestly and I have no foundation for that assumption except what I see in my students.

    I get about 90 students a semester and honestly, only about 3 or 4 of them really seem to take initiative, be creative, are curious, and really seek connection. And the more students I have over the years and the more freedom I try to give them, the more I realize that that freedom is what shuts them down. They want me to tell them exactly how to get an A, what’s on the test, what they need to do their speeches on. I can’t tell you how many students have struggled with finding a topic for their speech and when I ask them well, what are you interested in, what are you passionate about, they say “I don’t know.” And that totally ties into what you’re talking about with that lack of connection with a deeper truth, but I can’t help but feel like it’s because we have conditioned them to function more like robots than human beings.

  15. Steve Bonin  and Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales  – I couldn’t agree more.

    Unless we’ve struggled to escape Plato’s cave we won’t be able to appreciate our condition, or our potential.  All we’ll be able to do is spout popular anthems.

    When I taught, I saw exactly what you mention Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales and I’m not so sure that it is the fault of our educational system in any unique way.  I think this phenomenon is related to boredom.

    How often are you bored?

    I really only remember being bored when I was a young kid.  I might complain to my Mom that I was bored and she would reply that she could give me chores so that I wouldn’t be bored anymore – and suddenly I would find something (maybe just an idea or fantasy) to interest me.

    It wasn’t long after that phase I stopped being bored all together.  Sometimes I lose interest in a particular person or topic or activity but then my mind finds something else of interest.  I think that a lot of people never really develop this skill of avoiding boredom.  They never really learn how to find the part of a subject that is interesting. I think that is a problem with living in general, not necessarily education specifically.

    In philosophical terms I’m talking about ennui – a lack of interest in anything or an inability to maintain interest in anything.   I think the cure to ennui is to develop a sense of playfulness and playfulness requires a loosening of seriousness.  At school or at work, it can be hard to be less serious – and yet, ironically, being playful is so important.  How else can we be creative or genuine or connect with others?

  16. Really interesting thoughts, Steve Bonin​, John Wehrle​ and Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales​.

    Steve, in totally with you on the struggle. This is what Joseph Campbell relates so well in his works, and the better I understand his work through personal experience, the more true it rings for me.

  17. Gideon Rosenblatt Joseph Campbell did some great work with archetypes and he did a lot of deep thinking.  It is upon his work, and others, that the ideas of Self beyond the mental body has become a common understanding in our society today.  The journey to Self is easier today because these great thinkers blazed a trail for us.

  18. John Wehrle​ and Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales​, what I can’t tell is how different this generation of students is from previous ones. But I do think that this generation had been sheltered from the kind of struggle that Steve Bonin​ is talking about above.

    Last summer, rather than having our two boys enrolled in all the typical summer programs we did earlier in their lives, we just let them be, and they pleasantly surprised us by developing a set of interests that were genuinely theirs. I used to work really hard to build that sense of ownership on the teams and organizations that I’ve run over the latter half of my days managing people, and it really did make all the difference.

  19. John Wehrle there is an indoctrination process into society that the education system is part of.

    I would have said the phenomenon is related to laziness, not boredom.  If we do not push ourselves we gain an inertia that we must overcome before we can move again.  And on the other hand, the laziness does stem from boredom.  I agree with your views on playfulness it is important.

  20. I like that better Steve Bonin​… I too was struggling with the word boredom. Or is it not laziness but apathy? Or is apathy from the laziness? Lol so complicated.

  21. Steve Bonin  and Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales , to my mind no one is lazy because they want to be lazy or because they are simply flawed as people.  People don’t give in to vice (sloth is a traditional vice) because they want to be bad but because they are acting on either false belief (they happen to be mistaken about something very important) or they are acting from the wrong motivation (sometimes you’re doing the right thing but you’re doing it for the wrong reason.) < -- All of that is complicated but I it's hard to say it more simply.  I'll try: people lead lives of diminishing quality not because they want such lives but because they don't realize what the're doing or they are trying to accomplish the wrong thing.

    More specifically, why are we lazy?

    It doesn’t make sense to say we’re lazy because we want to be.  That’s kind of like saying sleeping pills make us sleepy because of their soporific effect; i.e. it’s not much of an explanation.  Well then, what’s left?

    What if we are lazy because we don’t believe there is anything worth doing?


    If so, then being lazy is more about our beliefs regarding worth (value) than about any particular choice.  In fact, think about it practically for second – how could someone choose to be lazy?  It seems like a state of being rather than simple choice.

    So let’s say, for sake of argument, laziness is a result of believing that no goal is worth pursuing.  How does someone come to this conclusion?  I can think of two ways off the top of my head: 1) They don’t think they can accomplish anything, or 2) Nothing they can accomplish is interesting.

    1) Is pretty easily disproved.  If I have the goal of taking a walk it doesn’t take much effort to prove that I can accomplish that goal.

    2) Is not so easy to disprove because it depends on what you find interesting.  And, what you find interesting depends upon a shifting threshold for the allotment of your attention.  If your threshold is high, then you won’t allot attention to a subject unless it is metaphorically SHOUTING at you.  If your threshold is low, there will be a long line of subjects waiting for your attention that you just can’t wait to get to.  For you, there are always more books you want to read than you will ever be able to get to.  There are more movies to watch, more people to meet, more subjects to learn than you could ever get to in one lifetime.

    This is why I chose boredom as my explanation but I will grant that I could very easily be mistaken.

  22. John Wehrle

    Very well written and stated. Came by due to the article, taking in as much as I can on A I and unemployment of the future.

    Very well thought out and explained.

    I will add there are varying degrees of personalities, and this is not subjected to the culture of family one is brought up in.

    There are simpletons and geniuses, however we all operate at a driven mechanism within our own brains.

    Often geniuses are born to very average parents –

    The word lazy, denotes a negative tone we have implicated as a derogatory term, for people we view, as a whole as lesser than.

    Honestly, in all my years of study, I have never met a lazy person, but this would come under scrutiny by others view.

    What they do not see is the interior of the person and what they might be facing life, which could be very easy for another to live through.

    Also, a time of rest could be considered lazy , yet for that particular person – these moments could be a result of trauma or loss.

    If we could elevate these negative criticisms from our world, we might have an enlightened conversation with someone we view as lazy.

    Example, I am currently working with a realtor – she is not good at thinking on her feet, but if I give her suggestions and very clear goals I want to accomplish, she loves to please!!!  This teaches me more tolerance for a different set of neural make up than what I am use to in my associates. But they are not out to please me, we are picking at each others brains for ideas.

    She is a very nice person, and wishes to please.

    Nice combination for a highly charged person, who feels 10 years behind in goals.

    YZAL odd, but that is LAZY backwards. ;D 

  23. My favorite part is this: “In fact, I think it is our humanity that is likely to serve as a kind of ‘soul’ for our most promising enterprises of the future.”  While I think I think maybe you meant something more like the humanity within each of us, I read the idea of Humanity as a collective noun. That the human collective is the soul, is the intelligence.

    What is missing for me from this and your previous post “Are Organizations Alive?” is the context of power. The initiative and connection you call for here is a trait developed and wielded by a privileged few. Free will seems to be at least as much a conceit as an inherent human trait. Humans are cheaper than robots and can be made to behave – to conform in the workplace for the privilege of a job. (Very Pink Floyd :)) According to a recent CFED report, 25% of all jobs in the US are low wage jobs. Wages are so depressed that the garment industry is considering moving back to the US. Without a radical change in power and control, the benefits of technological advances will continue to be primarily recognized by only a few.  Maybe the technology itself can provide a sort of democratization of benefit but so far, that has not been the case.

    Maybe humanity as a collective (as opposed to the sacrosanct humanity of the individual) is the electric sheep that humans dream of.

  24.  “people lead lives of diminishing quality not because they want such lives but because they don’t realize what the’re doing or they are trying to accomplish the wrong thing.” John Wehrle this is very true.

    People aren’t really lazy, but they are constantly looking for easier ways to do things, this is our nature.

    What does happen is that all the marketing tells us that “things” will make us happy and to get those things we need money and to get money we need to work, so often people choose career paths that will get them money but they are very unfulfilling avenues.

    When I think of my father and grandfather who made big changes in their lives to get money, I see that times were different.  My grandfather left Italy to work on the railroad here in Canada in 1912.  He went back, married and eventually moved his family back here because there was no way to advance in Italy at the time.  My father chose awful work, at 13 years old, making bricks in terrible conditions to get money.  Now the thing was that in both these cases they were among their peers who were doing the very same thing, and created a camaraderie among the group of workers…they were neither lazy nor bored and both had success. 

    Times have changed and the pursuit of money, even meager amounts, is unfulfilling today – especially in light of corporate take-overs that end up treating employees as a commodity.  

    We see people today trying to first find their passion and the wealth flows from that.  I believe we are the first generation that this works for en masse before this time this type of thinking only seemed to work for the elite class.  Today this is for every one.

    So to bring the conversation full circle, to pursue the right thing, is to pursue your passions and bring them to the world, because there is only one you.  I have been thinking about AI a great deal over the past few days and I believe that AI will force us to define ourselves as human and in that defining we will find that our passions will be an important part of that.

  25. Steve Bonin​, well said.

  26. Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales

    You are one passionate lady, looking to give in the best channels possible to children.

    This world is fascinating, and if only, such as yourself can present the magnificence of this world to children and open their eyes, spark that finely lit flame – Thank you for for all your efforts in doing so Alexandra!!! We need more heros like you!! Cheers MicheleElys

  27. Awe thank you MicheleElys Mer!! Passion is something I strive to find every single day 😀 It’s easy to be passionate about this kind of topic in my opinion. And I imagine many teachers out there have similar feelings and concerns to mine.

  28. Alexandra Riecke-Gonzales I wish I could say many teachers on anything. YOu have a wondrous passion in learning and giving. Others still need to find their flame and burn it brightly.

    Children do not know how to answer questions as you propose, it is no ones fault, it  due to the lack of life experience, so give them life experience. Tell them of life experience, show them in classes about life experience and engage them.

    Engaging people of all ages presents them with the opportunity that you care individually about them and want to find a common thread in developing their minds to think outside minimal boxes that they lives maybe enfolded in.

    So few have the opportunity to visit distant lands and other cultures, to go traveling on their own, visiting near by villiages, while exploring a bakery along the way or a cheese shop. They do not have those opportunities, so offer it in the class room. Make it different and this will ignite the creative learning enthusiasim you seek. Cheers

  29. Thanks for your comment, Steve Wright. Just so I’m sure I’m understanding you, do you mean by collective power, as in working people organizing in order to shift the distribution of income? 

  30. I think I muddied two separate thoughts. Your posts tend to do that to me. 🙂 The idea of humanity as a collective – maybe even a collective intelligence – was one reaction that I had. It often feels like our search for artificial intelligence is a proxy for a search for our own intelligence – our evolution beyond the petty individualism and ego power we all practice today. The idea that we actually are better together requires the reality that together as a collective we are not alone as individuals and all that that brings.

    The second reaction was that no new technology can exist outside of the unjust and inequitable power structure that own, manage and control the technology and so have near complete power over the distribution of those benefits. It may be that only Nick Hanauer’s pitchforks can address that inequity.

  31. Glad I can serve to confuse, Steve Wright.  😉  I get where you’re coming from now. 

    On the first point, yes, absolutely. I mean, I think that is happening quite literally. Back in September, I dug into how Google is using the knowledge we publish into the web as the basis for their emerging AI. It is us, as a collective, emergent intelligence. 

    The question you raise in your second point is what happens if/when all of the work is automated. While this piece is pointing to one potential path that might help to carve out certain functions as best suited to humans, there is the very real problem that the number of these kinds of jobs is probably going to be fewer than what we have today. That’s why I continue to probe ownership of capital as the most logical path forward. Still waiting to pull together the deeper thoughts on this. Hope to soon. 

  32. Did you see the recent report that Oklahoma politicians voted to ban AP US History from the state? How do we understand artificial intelligence in the face of willful ignorance? The course of human interaction – politics in the broadest sense – is trending towards oppression and extremism. Google’s great store of information is controlled by Google and will be wielded for Capitalist gain – Capitalism is what brought it in to being. (And I am a Capitalist.) While I can imagine a sort of knowledge that could be extracted from information I can’t imagine an intelligence that is free from politics (again in the largest sense.) And politics is the exercise of power/authority in the context of relationships/civic society. Like you Gideon Rosenblatt​ I need to think more about this. Information. Knowledge. Intelligence. Politics.

  33. Steve Wright I had to look up what AP US History was, since I am not American.  I boggles the mind.

  34. Great article as always Gideon.

    Community and social connection are great example of the areas we can focus on, I agree. We need to focus on those things more anyway, regardless of AI. We should also consider comprehension, introspection and creativity.

    In a utopian AI world, I see a society of artists, innovators and explorers who don’t work, they just play. Work is an antiquated concept in that world. They just enjoy living and being curious, creative, social creatures and do a lot less chores. People will educate themselves for the joy of it, not to survive.

    Robots are good at doing robotic things, not so good at thinking on their feet.

  35. Thanks Chris Bensler. I have a feeling that whatever the future holds on this front, it’s going to require some fairly radical adjustments to what we consider ‘work.’ I think there are a few scenarios where that could end up being quite positive. We’ll need to set our sights on that target though. 

  36. Gideon, We believe in the human soul as well. Someone who I think you should consider meeting sometime, possibly even interviewing is our Founder, ‘Dr. James’ O. He is what I would personally describe as an expert on the human soul. Please check out his abbreviated background on our ‘About’ page. (just sent a copy of this post to James)  I firmly believe it could be mutually beneficial for us and the world, humbly speaking of course, to stay connected…


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