Offsetting Technological Unemployment

In this post, I’ll discuss why popular support for public works job creation is likely to dramatically increase as the virtual reality spiral gets underway over the next 15 years.

vr spiral pdf

In “The Jobs of Tomorrow: Part 2 of 2” I explained why I believe that societies will use “Virtual Public Jobs Programs” in the 2030s to alleviate technological unemployment.  I expect these virtual reality focused public works programs to only be broadly adapted after a very difficult economic period in which it becomes clear that:

  1. Very few options for individually meaningful and socially useful work are left that can replace the huge numbers of jobs lost as a result of technological progress [1]
  2. Massive fiscal stimulus is needed to restore employment and wages to socially acceptable levels

In the Industrial Age at present, reality molding technologies are typically used to provide consumers with access to “real world” experiences.  Yet by the dawn of the Virtual Age in the early 2040s, reality mimicking technologies will provide consumers with excellent substitutes for most “real world” experiences at fractions of today’s costs.  These reality mimicking technologies will also provide consumers with access to a universe of amazing new experiences that are completely unprecedented in human history.

As the global economy transitions from one paradigm to the other, traditional “real world” businesses will have to shed numerous jobs in efforts to reduce their costs and stay competitive.

Governments that are striving to maintain robust job markets in their countries during this time will face a series of difficult choices.  I expect that they will repeatedly have to decide between either saving inefficient/obsolete jobs by bailing out failing private sector firms, or creating new public works jobs to offset unemployment.

Although some governments are likely to use bailouts initially, I expect this to change after several instances are encountered where the projected cost of saving a group of inefficient/obsolete jobs by repeatedly bailing out a failing private sector firm significantly exceeds the cost to create the same number of new public works jobs.

Around this time, I expect more and more governments to start using the option of hiring citizens to work on public works projects and letting inefficient private sector businesses fail.  The resulting improvements in private sector and public infrastructure efficiency should increase personal convenience for their citizens and encourage them to use public works programs more.

Popular support and financial justification for public works programs should thus increase significantly as more and more private sector jobs become obsolete over the next 15 years, affecting higher and higher percentages of the global workforce.  Because of their many potential benefits, several of which I discussed in my previous post, I expect “Virtual Public Jobs Programs” to be a popular choice for public works employment in the 2030s and beyond.


Additional Notes

[1] As I discussed in “The Jobs of Tomorrow: Part 2 of 2,” public works job creation is likely to be seen as more beneficial for societies than simple handouts of money to the unemployed.  This will be particularly true if public works jobs are used for purposes like building out and efficiently utilizing Virtual Age infrastructure.

The Jobs of Tomorrow: Part 2 of 2

In my post “The Jobs of Tomorrow: Part 1 of 2,” I wrote that I expect the global economy to transition from the Industrial Age to the “Virtual Age” over the next 25 years, as illustrated in the diagram below.  This transition should take place in two parts, the “Remote Control” period (from ~2016-2030) and the “Virtual Public Jobs Programs” period (from ~2031-2040).  I will focus on the latter period in this post.

notes slide 11 pdf

I expect that after experiencing the economic difficulties of the “Remote Control” period, people worldwide will be clamoring for financial assistance from their governments. Technological unemployment is likely to be so widespread by 2030 that many employment relief measures that may seem viable today will be clearly unworkable.  For example, mandatory furloughs, reduced hours and minimum wage raises will be pointless if jobs are nearly impossible to get or keep anyway.  It will also be too socially costly for governments to abolish technologies that have led to job losses, and mandate that they be replaced with older technologies.  Domestic companies that try to revive obsolete technologies will quickly fall behind their international peers, likely forcing them to shed even more jobs.

A large fraction of the population will thus desperately need financial relief, at a time when it’s clear that the available pool of “real world” jobs is both insufficient for everyone and rapidly shrinking.  Furthermore, even though the cost of living will probably be lower than today due to technological progress (including the effects of the virtual reality spiral), people will still need sources of income to survive.  With private sector sources of income irreversibly disappearing, they will turn to their governments for help.

Governments will then be faced with a very important choice.  They will have to choose to either pay their citizens for doing nothing (since jobs will be nearly impossible for them to get and keep), or to pay their citizens for doing something (by providing them with new jobs).  The former option, known as a “basic income,” is a relatively old idea that has gained a lot of traction in recent years.  Yet, the latter option, hiring citizens to do “public works” projects, proved to be very effective domestically during the Great Depression.

I am confident that public jobs programs will be far more beneficial to future societies than basic income schemes, but only if they are first upgraded to reflect the times, which I discuss below.  Once this is done, I expect public jobs programs to be implemented by most countries that are capable of doing so.  This will enable them to put many of their unemployed citizens back to work, while simultaneously upgrading their national infrastructures and preparing their populations for the Virtual Age.

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The Jobs of Tomorrow: Part 1 of 2

Virtual and augmented reality technologies will soon deliver high quality substitutes for many “real world” experiences, and a staggering number of completely unprecedented experiences, to nearly all humans around the globe. They will deliver these experiences while leaving much smaller ecological footprints in their wake than our Industrial Age economic “machine” would be able to for comparable experiences. Their supporting physical infrastructure will also require significantly less human intervention to operate than our Industrial Age economic “machine” does today.  These and many other benefits that these technologies will provide to society make their widespread adaptation inevitable in my view.

Widespread consumer use of these technologies will lead to the Industrial Age clearly ending and giving way to what I term the “Virtual Age” by the early 2040s, following an approximately 25-year transition period.  In this two-part post, I will discuss the basics of how I expect this transition period to transform the global economy and shape the nature of “the jobs of tomorrow.”

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Saturation’s Implications

In my post “Molding Versus Mimicking Reality,” I wrote about augmented and virtual reality technologies that “the countdown to market saturation is now clearly underway.”  I’ll discuss some of the implications of this, and provide some additional evidence to support this view, below.

As I write these words, the foundations of some pretty advanced dynamic 3D display technologies are already in place, from the mobile to the billboard scale, and from the non-immersive to the immersive. Since these new dynamic 3D displays “contain” the currently dominant dynamic 2D displays, Marshall McLuhan’s work suggests that significant social change is likely to accompany the resulting shift in our dominant display medium. [1]

A particularly important change will be the increase in public awareness of the communications capabilities of dynamic 3D display technologies, including augmented and virtual reality technologies.  This will build on any existing public awareness of their gaming capabilities.

Industry firms are likely to soon be able to distribute these technologies through some of the same established networks that mobile communications devices are currently distributed through, as the technologies will become increasingly essential for communications over time.

This means that the potential for dynamic 3D displays to rapidly saturate the global marketplace should not be underestimated.

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