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The Future of Work

Robots, AI, and Automation

By Darrell M. West
TheAutomatedSocietyTWEAK.indd

Looking for ways to handle the transition to a digital economy

Robots, artificial intelligence, and driverless cars are no longer things of the distant future. They are with us today and will become increasingly common in coming years, along with virtual reality and digital personal assistants.

As these tools advance deeper into everyday use, they raise the question—how will they transform society, the economy, and politics? If companies need fewer workers due to automation and robotics, what happens to those who once held those jobs and don’t have the skills for new jobs? And since many social benefits are delivered through jobs, how are people outside the workforce for a lengthy period of time going to earn a living and get health care and social benefits?

Looking past today’s headlines, political scientist and cultural observer Darrell M. West argues that society needs to rethink the concept of jobs, reconfigure the social contract, move toward a system of lifetime learning, and develop a new kind of politics that can deal with economic dislocations. With the U.S. governance system in shambles because of political polarization and hyper-partisanship, dealing creatively with the transition to a fully digital economy will vex political leaders and complicate the adoption of remedies that could ease the transition pain. It is imperative that we make major adjustments in how we think about work and the social contract in order to prevent society from spiraling out of control.

This book presents a number of proposals to help people deal with the transition from an industrial to a digital economy. We must broaden the concept of employment to include volunteering and parenting and pay greater attention to the opportunities for leisure time. New forms of identity will be possible when the “job” no longer defines people’s sense of personal meaning, and they engage in a broader range of activities. Workers will need help throughout their lifetimes to acquire new skills and develop new job capabilities. Political reforms will be necessary to reduce polarization and restore civility so there can be open and healthy debate about where responsibility lies for economic well-being.

This book is an important contribution to a discussion about tomorrow—one that needs to take place today.

Praise for The Future of Work

The author provides an interesting glimpse at the latest innovations: nimble robots, sophisticated software, an “Internet of Things” through which everyday objects communicate with one another. He shows how these innovations might affect existing industries and spawn new ones, reducing the need for some types of jobs and increasing the need for others, as well as changing the way people work in whatever jobs they have.—Wall Street Journal

There is little doubt humanity is on the precipice of massive change in how we work. The only question is whether it is a future of shared prosperity and leisure or one of mass unemployment and turmoil. The Future of Work offers a quick introduction to the basic concepts that underlie the debate.—New York Times

In The Future of Work, Darrell West explores how emerging technologies will change the way we live. He provides interesting insights on how to think about the future of AI, robotics, and the Internet of Things.—Steve Case, Chairman and CEO, Revolution, and Cofounder, AOL

The future of work is the future of the economy and how we live. No one knows in the age of AI what it will be, but this book is the best guide yet to come out.—Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard University

Darrell West crisply outlines the astounding leaps by which machines are replacing human workers, and warns of the devastating consequences that are likely to follow. But West also offers hope. We may be able to redefine work and renegotiate our social contract, if we make major reforms in our political system. Humans, plan ahead!—Benjamin I. Page, Northwestern University and author of Democracy in America?

If you want a concise, clear-eyed, evidence-based, and up-to-the-minute overview of the future of work, this is the book for you. It’s an indispensable guide both to the deep changes that are occurring and to our best options for responding intelligently to them.—Andrew McAfee, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

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