Will technology help eliminate BS jobs?

Lazy inefficient businessman sitting at the desk and watching the moving balls of Newton’s cradle.

As mentioned in one of the previous articles (How technology aims to revolutionize trucking), one of the aspects of our economy that I constantly think about is people doing work that may not be productive, meaningful, or beneficial to their own growth. Interestingly, there is an entire academic framework for categorizing such jobs, and David Graeber, an anthropologist and activist who played a key role in the Occupy Wall Street movement, coined the concept of stupid jobs.

What qualifies as crappy jobs? According to Graeber, the initial criticism he published in an article for Strike was against the “predatory nature of the capitalist system.” The definition of bullshit the thing is that the person doing it feels that their contribution to society is meaningless and in some way even harming it. The person doing it has to pretend that the work they are doing means something. One should not confuse stupid jobs with bad jobs which are often tiring, exhausting and pay less etc. Graeber also adds that these jobs also eat away at you spiritually and morally, hence we see many very unhappy but busy people (they are unhappy because know that nothing useful or meaningful is being contributed).

Now we’re going to look at one aspect of technology that’s making its way and causing significant change: Artificial Intelligence. Technology has already taken over most of the human occupations and drastically automated man-made installations and industries. The data shows that the use of AI in many business sectors has grown by 270% in the last four years. If it continues to enter industries and businesses with the same fervor, then it is certain that most of the professions will be ruled by robots in the next five to 10 years. In fact, 90% of leading businesses already have ongoing investments in AI technologies. More than half of businesses implementing some type of AI-driven technology report experiencing greater productivity.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020, AI is expected to replace 85 million jobs worldwide by 2025. While that sounds scary, the report says it will also create 97 million new jobs in the same time period.

In an essay published on Medium, AI guru Kai-Fu Lee — CEO of Sinovation Ventures and author of the 2018 book AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order — argues that AI will automate 50% of all jobs within 15 years.

“Accountants, factory workers, truck drivers, paralegals, and radiologists—just to name a few—will face disruption similar to what farmers faced during the Industrial Revolution,” he wrote. “As research shows, the speed at which AI will replace jobs is only going to accelerate, affecting both the well-educated and the less-educated.” AI is likely to have a strong impact on certain sectors, in particular:

Illustration by Hira Shah

Now we will connect these ideas. Can the use of AI reduce or eliminate stupid jobs? It can introduce more humanity to the world, people can take a break from hard work and pursue their own passions and projects. Graeber wasn’t the only one who dreamed of it. In his essay “In Praise of Idleness,” Bertrand Russell dreams of a world where people work only four hours a day, leaving plenty of room for creativity. “Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life instead of exhausted nerves, fatigue and dyspepsia.” The work required will be enough to make the time off enjoyable, but not enough to lead to exhaustion,” he says.

Thinkers such as Lewis Mumford have also postulated some arguments in this regard. He spoke of wealth distribution technologies focused on “concrete wealth” rather than money, as the latter fed this monster of “excessive accumulation”. Recently, the “quiet opt-out” trend has taken hold. Unlike the name suggests, it’s not about quitting a job. It is about not doing excessive work or anything other than what you are assigned ie. to do the bare minimum. This trend has recently caught up, especially since the pandemic, as working from home has become the new rule. There’s a reason everyone’s talking about it—workplaces and the nature of work in many cases continue to be toxic. Gallup’s Global Workforce Report 2022 showed that only 9 percent of workers in the UK, for example, were engaged or enthusiastic about their work.

I for once would love to see a world where robots and algorithms replace these stupid professions; the delivery drivers driving around every day, the truck drivers driving hundreds of thousands of miles, the Amazon workers who work almost robotically (their bathroom breaks are scheduled!). When I think of my part of the world, where workers toil under the hot sun: there are queues: there are administrative obstacles that make everything worse. All of this and for all of these people must be improved. We, as humans, deserve a better and more meaningful life; maybe robots will help us achieve this.

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