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”  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.  The Oxford Dictionaries website defines citizen science as :
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 , 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.  In this post I will briefly discuss how universities can help to facilitate this process.
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. 
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
 See this Wikipedia mention of the “Nine dots puzzle” for more information about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking_outside_the_box#Nine_dots_puzzle
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?”  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 , a process that is likely to result in many existing jobs, activities and business models going obsolete.
The Future (Location) of Work
In this post, I will discuss why I expect work in the Virtual Age to be very different from work in the Industrial Age as it exists today.
By the dawn of the Virtual Age in the early 2040s, the majority of “real world” jobs that exist today will likely have either been automated or have gone obsolete, due in large part to the effects of the virtual reality spiral. Fortunately, virtual reality technologies should also have vastly expanded human job creation capabilities by this point. As a result, the most surprising thing about a typical job in the 2040s is not what it will be but where it will be located. Most human work in the Virtual Age will take place in virtual reality environments.
In the Virtual Age, I expect that the vastly increased access to experiences that virtual reality and other technologies will provide will have resulted in very high living standards around the globe. People will likely spend the bulk of both their work and leisure time in immersive virtual reality environments, enabling them to subjectively experience a much higher quality of life than is possible today, while generating a smaller aggregate ecological footprint.
Private sector jobs and companies will also of course still exist in the Virtual Age. However, the private sector is likely to be much smaller than the public sector, after having shrunk during the economic turmoil of the virtual reality spiral. As public works programs will most likely have to be used to offset private sector job losses during the virtual reality spiral, I expect the public sector to be the largest employer in the Virtual Age.