The Coming Jobs Revolution Will Be Historically Profound. Are Artists Ready For It?

Many experts believe the biggest disruption in our lifetime is about to take place. Automation – robots and artificial intelligence – is  going to eliminate a significant number of current jobs, say experts:

A recent study found 50% of occupations today will be gone by 2020, and a 2013 Oxford study forecasted that 47% of jobs will be automated by 2034. A Ball State study found that only 13% of manufacturing job losses were due to trade, the rest from automation. A McKinsey study suggests 45% of knowledge work activity can be automated.

94% of the new job creation since 2005 is in the gig economy. These aren’t stable jobs with benefits on a career path. And if you are driving for Uber, your employer’s plan is to automate your job. Amazon has 270k employees, but most are soon-to-be-automated ops and fulfillment. Facebook has 15k employees and a $330B market cap, and Snapchat in August had double their market cap per employee to $48M per employee. The economic impact of tech was raising productivity, but productivity and wages have been stagnant in recent years.

This will lead to profound changes in how our economy works and how our culture organizes itself. If most people won’t be able to get jobs in the traditional sense, one of the primary organizing principles of humankind – that our ability to survive, our success in life,  is determined by the need to earn a living, by the jobs we’re able to get – will change.

As tech leader Ross Mayfield suggests in this LinkedIn piece, the automation of jobs could cause a backlash against technology and the people who create it as wealth becomes even more concentrated in the hands of a few. The original Luddites, hs reminds us, were not just people who had opted out of technology, but actively opposed and tried to destroy it.

The post-jobs world will be a transformation on the order of the industrial revolution, he says.

And artists? It’s at times of profound change in our culture that artists have the most to say. They comment on, critique, draw attention to, and interpret how the world changes in such times. So how will artists anticipate what could be one of the most profound changes in human history?