3 Myths About the Future of Work (and why they’re not true) – Daniel Susskind

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By Cathy Milton.

Maureen McCann has really started a trend at CPC. She’s got us talking about the future of work. It’s an exciting conversation to be having. Yes, there are many potentially scary unknowns, but there is also the potential for many exciting new possibilities.

If you talk to friends and family about what the future world of work will look like, you may discover that many automatically adopt the “doom-and-gloom” approach. Fanciful ideas abound about automation, artificial intelligence, and robotics and how they seem poised to push human beings out of the labour force.

Dr. Daniel Susskind is a Fellow in Economics at Balliol College, Oxford University, England. He is a teacher and researcher who explores the impact of technological advancement on work and society. He is the co-author (along with his father) of the best-selling book, The Future of the Professions.

In this 16-minute TED Talk, Dr. Susskind explains and dispels three of the most common myths about work in the future.

Myth #1– The Terminator Myth

A popular image often seen on television screens, in books, in films, and in everyday commentary is one where an army of robots descends on the workplace to replace human workers. This is the Terminator Myth.

It’s true that machines will displace people in some types of work, but they don’t just fill in for human beings. They also complement them in other tasks, making that work more productive and important. As productivity increases, incomes rise and demand grows. People displaced from old tasks will find new work as that demand fuels the economy.

Myth #2– The Intelligence Myth

The Intelligence Myth is the human belief that machines have to copy the way that human beings think and reason in order to outperform them.

But, the tasks of driving a car, making a medical diagnosis, and identifying a bird at a fleeting glance are all tasks that until recently, leading economists thought couldn’t be automated. And yet today, all of these tasks havebeen automated.

The reason these economists were wrong is that they fell for the Intelligence Myth. It is no longer true that a human has to explain how a task or thought process is performed so that the explanation can be captured in a set of rules for a machine to follow. Today, both routine and non-routine tasks are capable of being automated due to advances in processing power, data storage capability, and algorithm design.

Myth #3– The Superiority Myth

Technological progress will make the amount of work to be done bigger. Some tasks become more valuable. New tasks have to be done.

But it’s wrong to think that human beings will be best placed to perform these tasks. This is the Superiority Myth. The amount of work might get bigger and change, but as machines become more capable, it’s likely that they’ll take on the extra work themselves. Technological progress, rather than complement human beings, will complement machines instead.

Human beings only stand to benefit if they retain the upper hand in all these complemented tasks, but as machines become more capable, that becomes less likely.

While these three myths may present the image of a troubling future where the balance falls in favour of machines rather than humans, watch and listen as Dr. Susskind explains why he believes this is a good problem to have.


Photo by Jack Moreh on freerangestock.com



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Thank you for your post Cathy. It’s great that the Susskinds are helping us think through future of work and its impact on the professions. I read their book and thought they had some great points to offer. I would recommend that anyone with ambitions to become a lawyer read what they have to say about the future of the legal profession.

Here is my book review if you are interested: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1927560089?book_show_action=false&from_review_page=1