A couple of weeks ago a few high profile Silicon Valley types discussed how automation would change the work space. The TES has been considering the impact that this could have on teaching too and as a teacher it is something I have had to think about.
Ever since science fiction began there have been stories and warnings of dystopian futures where the mass populous are plugged in and drop out of the crumbling society, instead plugging into virtual worlds where a utopia exists whilst machines carry out the day to day work. The Wachowski's The Matrix, Aldous Huxley's Brave New Worlds and various works by Philip K. Dick all show worlds where the unwashed masses consume virtual reality or computer based entertainment at a worrying rate and this seems to be happening in real life. In Japan there is the phenomenon of hakikomori, where people are shut-ins and rarely go outside, and there are numerous tales of people playing MMORPG's and dying due to exploding bladders or lack of nourishment but apart from anecdotal data there are real-world figures.
Automation has led to an estimated 30 % of jobs being done by machines and this means a lot more people seeking new jobs or training. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has stated that this will become more prevalent in the future and as such there will be a need to provide enough money for everyone to live on: a universal basic income.
Critics of this idea have said that this would lead to many people leading sedentary lives where all they would do is play video games, watch box sets and do very little. That may be true and is a real worry but the critics saying this often have interesting, fulfilling or very well paid jobs. I wonder how they would feel if they worked as a cashier at a supermarket or did some basic manual work that required very little skill?
This kind of moralising assumes the worst of humanity. I'm sure there are many people, who if given the opportunity, would just stay at home and consume media but there would also be many who would finally be able to explore new hobbies and interests. How many of us would like to learn a new skill or take a course in something, not for financial reasons but just because we have an interest? Imagine a world where people could pursue a passion and live a fulfilling life based on their interest, imagine the possibilities...
So whilst the critics may not like the idea of a Universal Basic Income it may in fact be the way forward, a welfare system for everyone based on jobs that would be replaced by automation. Now I'm not saying I have all the answers but I do think we need to look at this with a fairer light than it has been presented with. When the Labour Party fought for 48 hour weeks, weekends and Bank Holidays businesses and the like said it would destroy the capitalist system yet here we are 70 or so years later still doing fine overall. Let's not always assume the worst and look forward optimistically.