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What is the future of human labour?

Let's look at SDG 8

The relationship between decent work and economic growth is uncertain.

Can productive, quality employment be created and will it enable sustainable economic growth?

This step asks you to delve into SDG 8.

SDG 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all.

SDG 8 states there has been slow and uneven progress in ending poverty and aims to increase economic growth and productivity to eradicate it.

Diversification, technological upgrading and innovation are important stimuli for increased productivity but what is the impact of such change?

One potential consequence of technological development is a reduction in demand for human labour which is displaced by machines and other technological solutions.

More machines and yet more jobs

In this TedxCambridge video economist David Autor (2016) asks why the proportion of adults in the USA with a job has consistently gone up for the past 125 years, despite a century of creating machines to do our work for us?

He concludes that the type of work and the number of jobs available are determined by two principles:

  • The o-ring principle – if work is a series of interlocking steps, or links in a chain, then automating some of them doesn’t make the other steps unnecessary.

Humans can focus on the steps requiring our expertise, judgement and creativity, and these steps become more important and valuable. We do needed work that machines cannot do.

  • The ‘never get enough’ principle – technology does eliminate jobs but our desire for new products, services and experiences both fuels new industry/work and motivates us to work beyond what is required to meet our basic needs. Innovation and consumerism drive new growth.

Is it really that simple? Consider what are the economic and social implications of future technology such as robots that do work only humans do now?

Future jobs in the new machine age

In this TED2013 video economist Andrew McAfee discusses the economic and social implications in the USA of future jobs in the ‘new machine age’.

Your task

Compare the aims of SDG 8 with potential future work practices and their implications. Suggest prospective ways to reconcile the potential of work with ‘disruptive technology’. Read and critically respond to others’ comments.

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This article is from the free online course:

Introduction to Sustainability and Development

Deakin University

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