Here’s How Robots Will Encourage Meaningful Work

Slowly but surely, the way we’re working is changing. More people are working remotely, and the NBN Side Hustle Report found that 25% of Australians have a side hustle.

Interestingly, 69% of Australians said they want to give their life further purpose and meaning. 56% said they’re aiming to start a side hustle because they’re sick of their routine at work. And 46% say they no longer feel challenged in their current role. Yikes.

We all know the 9-5 life. Get up, commute to work, put in your time at your desk, and go home. But why are so many of us unfulfilled in our jobs? And what can we do about it?

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The First Industrial Revolution was about mechanising production with the use of steam and water power. The second was about creating mass production with electric power. The third automated production with information technology and electronics. Now, experts believe a Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway. It’s characterised by technology that’s blurring the lines between the biological, physical, and digital spheres.

At the heart of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? Technology breakthroughs in:

  • 3-D printing
  • artificial intelligence
  • The Internet of Things
  • Robotics
  • Biotechnology
  • Autonomous vehicles
  • Quantum computing
  • Nanotechnology

Just like previous revolutions, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will improve the quality of life and raise income levels for populations around the world. And we’re going to have much more time on our hands.

The problem? Naysayers who still believe we can prevent technology from taking these jobs, even though this change is inevitable.

One key thing to remember is that the jobs that robots and artificial intelligence are replacing are those that are dull, dirty, and dangerous. These include repetitive tasks that can cause issues like carpal tunnel and repetitive strain injuries, and jobs like welding, which are hazardous to the human body.

Robots take the hard work out of hard jobs. They also typically create more jobs, since people need to be able to maintain and service these robots.

What is Meaningful Work?

Finding meaning in work is intensely individual and personal. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. A rough definition? When individuals perceive authentic connections between work and a transcendent life purpose beyond themselves.

Meaningfulness is often associated with a sense of achievement and pride and a feeling that we’re fulfilling our potential. It’s about finding our work interesting, absorbing, and creative.

Many people have an “irrational belief in work for work’s sake”, according to Benjamin Hunnicutt, an historian, and post-workist at the University of Iowa. This seems counterproductive since the majority of jobs aren’t providing us with much meaning in our lives.

If a checkout operator’s job was a video game (take a product, scan it, slide it away, and repeat), video game critics would probably call it mindless. But many people are desperate to keep these sorts of jobs around.  

All of the things that positive psychology considers necessary for our well-being, including autonomy, creativity, fulfilment, meaning, and purpose are absent in the average job.

In a post-work society, we may find that pride comes from our relationships with others, rather than just our careers. People may spend more time caring for neighbours and families.

Will Robots Mean More Meaningful Work?

Marshall Brain points to the explosive growth in the use of robotic in places like Home Depot, McDonald’s, and of course, the assembly line. He believes that almost all hotel, restaurant, wholesale, transportation, manufacturing, and construction jobs will be automated by 2025. We could expect to see unemployment levels of up to 50%.

While most people focus on employment and consider it to be the solution to economic growth, we should instead be focusing on productivity through technology instead of human labour. The problem is that the proceeds of this productivity (economic wealth) are not equally distributed.

Today, and in the future, most work will be knowledge work, instead of product creation. Knowledge work is a creative activity. One of the biggest challenges we’ll see within the next decade is resolving the work issue. This means accepting basic human rights around the essential things like health, shelter, and food, and focusing work on how much value we’re creating, to make life fun, purposeful, and meaningful.

One way to do this is through a Universal Basic Income. Mark Zuckerberg has said this will: “Make sure everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.”

Finland is currently testing whether a basic income works better than its current unemployment benefits.

Municipalities in The Netherlands are currently removing various conditions from employment benefits, and some groups are already receiving a basic income. And Ontario is using a negative income tax to see if it improves quality of life and job prospects- particularly for those in the gig economy.

In the United States, one study found that a guaranteed income of $1000 a month would accelerate economic growth in the US by an extra 12.56% over eight years.

In order for humans to be satisfied in the future, we need to ensure that millions of people can find meaningful work without necessarily relying on formal wages. People will have more time to follow their passions- whether that’s developing the next big business idea, or writing a bestselling novel.

Want to learn how you can use artificial intelligence to grow your business? We can help. Get in touch and let’s talk.

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