The future of work is on our collective mind

Robotics and coding, Image courtesy of State Library of Queensland

Robotics and coding, Image courtesy of State Library of Queensland

In a recent ABC Radio interview with Steve Austin, Professor Peter Corke discussed the future of robots and the way they are already integrated into our everyday lives. He suggested that increasingly, robots will carry out dangerous and unpleasant jobs in the mining and agriculture industries – a positive use of technology in which human life will be improved. A listener asked, “Is the social contract being broken?” and as the conversation continued Professor Corke admited to sharing growing concerns that robots may do damage when replacing people in the work world, by destroying human beings’ sense of purpose and meaning.

The human costs of robotic automation is explored profusely in contemporary science fiction, a platform that, according to Australian author Cat Sparks, is “…terrible at predicting the future… but really good at telling us what we’re frightened of.” In the first series of the British sci-fi TV series, HUM∀NS, the story is set against the backdrop of unemployment riots caused when androids (“synths”) take over human jobs en masse. A review of the show parallels the conversation in Austin’s interview:

“HUM∀NS takes place in a world where robotics has all-but taken over the work force, eliminating a vast amount of jobs and careers, creating resentment among some but relief to many.”

In these factual and sci-fictional conversations the fear for the future of work is clear: will robots take our jobs? But there is also a tension between our discomfort and our hopes: is that good, bad, or something else? Is it resentment or is it relief?

Of course questions about automation are only one part of the complex future work-world puzzle. There are other concerns at hand: Will the Sharing Economy free us or enslave us? Will future economies cause a greater distance between socio-economic classes or will it help us all to live better lives? How will the Digital Revolution change our roles and the kinds of work we do? With 50 billion connected devices by 2020, will the Internet of Things assist or control us? What happens if there’s a large-scale Digital Disruption? And – is capitalism dead?

On 24 May Steve Austin revisits the topic of the future of work by facilitating the second Queenslanders in Conversation for 2017. In this panel discussion a social scientist, a start-up consultant, a professor of employment relations and an educational futurist will lead the conversation and spark debate. Panellists, audience members and online viewers will join in the discussion and hear hopes and fears for the future of work heartily explored.

If you’re interested in this conversation there are a number of ways you can be involved. Join the wait list to attend in person, watch the live stream on the night or join in the social media discussion using the hashtag #digitalfutures. Click here to find out more.

More Information:

ABC Radio interview – http://www.abc.net.au/radio/brisbane/programs/mornings/peter-corke/8272590

Review of the show HUM∀NS – http://au.ign.com/articles/2015/06/28/humans-episode-1-review

Webcast, Queenslanders in Conversation: paradise lost or paradise found, Cat Sparks – http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/audio-video/webcasts/recent-webcasts/queenslanders-in-conversation-feb-2017 (quote starts at 32:10)

Popular Internet of Things Forecast of 50 Billion Devices by 2020 Is Outdated by Amy Nordrum – http://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-talk/telecom/internet/popular-internet-of-things-forecast-of-50-billion-devices-by-2020-is-outdated

Queenslanders in Conversation: the future of work – http://www.slq.qld.gov.au/whats-on/calevents/livestreams/may

Anne Pensalfini

Project Support Officer, Signature Program