Jobs Programs for Modern Times

I hope that all readers have been doing well during these challenging times. In this post I will explain why I believe the country would benefit from being able to rapidly create large numbers of temporary remote jobs that are well matched to the skills of unemployed workers who need work. [1][2]

The coronavirus crisis has highlighted the fact that millions of domestic jobs require workers to physically leave their homes to earn a living. Even with the massive job market turmoil so far, it is still unknown how the crisis will ultimately affect the job market in the long run. As a result of this, Congress should consider preparing to be able to fund the creation of temporary jobs for unemployed remote workers, just in case they are needed either in the near or long term. These emergency jobs should ideally help workers to maintain some workplace skills while safely doing useful tasks for society that provide them with reasonable incomes. Congress may also be able to build on an existing bill like the “Jobs for All Act” (H.R. 1000) to facilitate them. [3][4]

To create these jobs, the government would first ask a group of capable universities and companies to individually propose socially useful projects that can temporarily hire hundreds to thousands of unemployed remote workers, while utilizing their specific skills as closely as possible. It would then fund a select group of high quality proposals, or “jobs programs,” enabling the universities or companies with winning proposals to remotely hire these workers as full time employees. It would also fund the cost of computers and broadband access for hired workers who need them.

These jobs programs would be structured to produce a work product that is either immediately valuable to society, particularly including the private sector, or very likely to be valuable at a later date. Additionally, the long term value to society that the jobs programs provide should go far beyond their potential benefit to any one university or company.

For example, a movie studio might propose hiring one thousand unemployed artists for one month to write new popular screenplays and musical scores for them. [5][6] Alternately, a car manufacturer might propose hiring one thousand unemployed cab drivers for two months to help enhance its car safety systems using driving simulation software. In a more forward looking example, a private space company might propose hiring one thousand unemployed miners for three months to work on simulated asteroid mining scenarios that generate insights for future missions.

In all cases the government would be sponsoring socially beneficial R&D that is primarily driven by skilled workers doing what they do best, resulting in a new knowledge resource for society. [7] As an example of how this might work, a university or company that runs such a jobs program might be given six months after completion of the program to formally present the results to the government in report format, keeping the names of any program participants anonymous as needed. These results could then be released into the public domain six months after this, giving the public access to the valuable new knowledge resource in a year’s time. [8]

Job Creation Diagram

FIG. 1: The proposed emergency job creation approach would be structured to benefit all of society in the long run, and not just the entities that run the jobs programs

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Citizen Science and Job Creation

Since my last post, I’ve had the privilege of attending two really interesting conferences here in Houston.  In the first one, the “Immersive Technology Conference,” I gave a talk on “Virtual Reality and the Future of Work,” my first public talk on some of the topics I’ve discussed on this blog. More recently, I attended “De Lange Conference X” at Rice University on the topic of “Humans, Machines and the Future of Work.”  At both of these conferences, I discussed the concept of “Virtual Public Jobs Programs” [1] with several people, and got some great feedback about the idea in response.

During one such conversation at the De Lange conference, I was encouraged to look into “citizen science,” a term that was new to me. [2]  The Oxford Dictionaries website defines citizen science as [3]:

The collection and analysis of data relating to the natural world by members of the general public, typically as part of a collaborative project with professional scientists.

This definition implies that Virtual Public Jobs Programs, as I’ve proposed them on this blog [4], would effectively be a form of citizen science that focuses on virtual worlds rather than the natural world.  In addition to this, the public sector would pay Virtual Public Jobs Program participants for their work, thus using citizen science as a job creation tool. [5]  In this post I will briefly discuss how universities can help to facilitate this process.

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The Rest of the Page

The “9 dots puzzle” is a well known puzzle that begins with a 3×3 square grid of dots on a page of paper.  To solve the puzzle, you must connect all 9 dots with only 4 straight lines, and without letting your pen or pencil leave the page. [1]

Although these rules may seem simple enough, many people encountering this puzzle for the first time incorrectly assume that areas of the page outside the boundaries of the grid of dots are off limits.  By failing to consider the rest of the page, they unwittingly turn a simple puzzle into an unsolvable problem.

Society faces an analogous puzzle today about the future of human work.  Although technology’s rapid advancement over the course of the Industrial Age has greatly improved living standards, it has also made many jobs obsolete.  In recent years, the overall trend of machines making jobs obsolete has caused many people to question whether there will be enough work for humans to do in the future.

Analogous to the “9 dots puzzle” above, it’s tempting to approach this question by incorrectly assuming that work that takes place outside of “real world” environments is off limits.  However, recent advances in virtual reality technologies suggest that jobs that take place in virtual reality environments will be a widespread possibility before long, and so such jobs must be considered as part of the future landscape of potential work.  In other words, the “page” in this case is much bigger than the “grid of dots,” and so the above question can’t be properly answered without considering the rest of the page.

As discussed in previous posts, virtual reality technologies have the potential to provide large numbers of socially useful jobs, regardless of whether or not most jobs located in “real world” environments are eventually automated or made obsolete.  Societies that nurture job creation with these technologies will thus diversify their job markets in a historically unprecedented way, and ensure that future jobs can be located in both real world and virtual reality environments.


References and Additional Notes

[1] See this Wikipedia mention of the “Nine dots puzzle” for more information about it:

An Abundance of Choices

In this post, I’ll discuss why consumers’ increasing access to virtual reality experiences in coming years is likely to lead to a much tougher competitive environment for many businesses.

To begin with, let’s consider the hypothetical owner of a beachside resort.  This resort owner doesn’t see virtual reality technologies as a big deal today, because being able to walk on a beach and swim up to a pool bar aren’t close to being replicated in virtual reality environments yet.

Instead of thinking about things this way, however, the resort owner should be wondering, “How soon will my customer base have access to virtual reality experiences that are so compelling that they prefer them over coming to my resort?” [1]  This question shows that the resort may face serious competition from virtual reality experiences long before a vacation there can be completely replicated!

As a giant wave of competition from virtual reality experiences begins to materialize over the next few years, many real world businesses will likely react by A) offering virtual reality experiences of their own, B) adding augmented reality features to the real world experiences they offer or C) reducing their prices to stay competitive.

As I’ll discuss below, all of these methods are going to reinforce the effects of the virtual reality spiral [2], a process that is likely to result in many existing jobs, activities and business models going obsolete.

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