CRASHCOURSE TEN. FUTURE IMPACT

About the crashcourses  

There are 10 online crashcourses. These crashcourses are linked to the Technology Impact Cycle Tool (tict.io). This free online tool, powered by Fontys University, helps you assess, design, invent, deploy or use technology that makes a (positive) impact on society. The tool offers quick scans, improvement scans and full questionnaires. The tool consists of 10 different categories.

You get the most out of the tool when you are informed on the different categories and, even better, inspired about the categories. That is the goal of this crashcourse: inform you and inspire you on FUTURE IMPACT so you are better equipped to assess the impact of technology.  All crashcourses take one hour to compleet.

About this crashcourse
This online crashcourse is number ten: future impact. In the Technology Impact Cycle Tool is a category considering future impact. In this crashcourse we are going to explore why it is important to imagine the future if you want to assess the impact of a technology today. We do that by giving you some theory on future literacy and then we use the example of the jobmarket of the future to practice with the concept. This course, like every course, has one mandatory assignment to help you understand. During the course we will offer all kind of further optional suggested reading, watching and optional assignments for those who crave for more!

The goal of this course is to educate you! To inform you! To inspire you! To entertain you! To dazzle you! To make you think! This is, we hope, not a boring crashcourse for beginners, or a basic course with just theory. We cherry picked our way through the topics. We do not strive to be complete, we strive to be interesting, to inform you and to inspire you! If you think we failed you, no problem, we are open for improvements. Just sent us an e-mail on: info@technofilosofie.com.

Some time management directions 
Again: it will take you approximately one hour to complete this course. This course consists of text, articles, videos and assignments. Every section lists reading time, viewing time and assignment time, so you can plan accordingly. If it takes longer than one hour, maybe that means your slow, maybe it means we calculated poorly. You figure it out yourself.

ONLINE CRASHCOURSE TEN. FUTURE IMPACT

This 60 minute online crashcourse consists of the following sections:

  1. Theory on futures literacy (8 minutes)
  2. Some ‘facts’ on the future of our jobs (26 minutes)
  3. Storytelling. An utopian & dystopian story (24 minutes)
  4. An uncertain future (2 minutes).

FUTURES LITERACY

Reading time: 2 minutes / viewing time: 6 minutes

What does it mean to be futures literate? ‘Literacy’ originally referred simply to the ability to read and write, but today, the term covers a much broader range of both competencies and knowledge in specific contexts such as ‘financial literacy’ and ‘digital literacy’. For futures literacy the specific context is the human imagination, as the future can only be imagined. The ability referred to by the term ‘futures literacy’ is therefore the capacity to know how to imagine the future, and why it is necessary. Futures literacy enables us to become aware of the sources of our hopes and fears, and improves our ability to harness the power of images of the future, to enable us to more fully appreciate the diversity of both the world around us and the choices we make.

It enables us – in this context – to assess technology by looking at the future impact!

Watch these video (6 minutes) by Loes Damhof, lecturer of the Year of Hanze University and researcher in future literacy:

Loes Damhof explains that our predictions are defined by our assumptions and that we need to reframe our assumptions to think about our future and that there is an important role for storytelling in that proces.

So, trying to imagine the future can help you to create a better technology today. Imagining the future also helps you to assess a technology. However, it is hard to imagine the future, because you do not have all the information, and there is a lot of assumptions that are in your way. In the next sections of this crashcourse we are going to try to prove this by first giving you some ‘facts’ on the job market. Then we will look at the consequences and utopian and dystopian scenarios. This will give you insight in the complexity of thinking about the future, but it will give you also insight about the discussions on the future of work, which is very relevant.

Further optional suggestions:

  • Article on Medium on futures literacys;
  • Website from Hanze University on futures literacy;

Key take aways:

  • Futures literacies helps us to innovate the present;
  • The way we think about the future is a result of our assumptions;
  • Reframing our assumptions is important. Storytelling can help.

SOME ‘FACTS’ ON THE FUTURE OF OUR JOBS

Reading time: 10 minutes / viewing time: 16 minutes

Suppose you are a student. You have it all figured out. You know how things work. You will work hard, you will get good grades, you will get a job, you will work hard at your job, you will earn more money, you will work even harder, you will buy nice things, you will do great things, you will become happy. Yes, maybe. Maybe not. Remove ‘the job’ from your plans and it all comes tumbling down. Suppose that the jobmarket is changing drastically. Suppose that getting a job becomes harder or even almost impossible. Suppose that there are just no more jobs. What about your plans then?

First watch this famous 15 minute video on the changing job market:

There are a lot of reasons why the jobmarket might drastically change. Jobs might be disappearing! We made an (incomplete) list below:

Argument One. The robots are coming. Men and women made of metal are coming. Companies like Boston Dynamics (see further suggestions) are making amazing progress. Yeah, you might say, but it is still incredibly expensive to make robots and it is still incredible hard to have a robot do simple things. This is called Moravecs Paradox: the idea that reasoning requires very little computation and sensorimotor skills require enormous computational services. So, if you are a plumber, or a welder or a carpenter things are looking good for the near future. If you work with your head, there is trouble. So, if we think of robots, we also have to think in terms of software robots, and then we see enormous progress in artificial intelligence.

A few years ago there was a computer called Watson that was able to win a game show called Jeopardy. This was, in computeryears, a very long time ago. Already there are a lot improved versions of ‘Watson’ that have more power and are a lot cheaper. Jeopardy is a complicated American game show. If you can design a computer that can win that show, you can imagine that in a few years such a computer can also work as a call center employee. Or as a doctor’s assistant. Or as an accountant. Secretary. Insurance advisor. And so on.

Here we have Googles Duplex calling the hairdresser for an appointment (1 minute video)

Everywhere we see software that can do cognitive jobs. The scary thing, of course, is that once we have the software for a – say – perfect interpreter / translator, it’s a matter of copying the software and you have millions of them and – poof – all the jobs are gone. You can already get doctor’s assistants from the Cloud. And then there are the Generative Adverserial Networks, we talked about in crashcourse 6. Computers with imagination. Computers that can imagine people, animations, landscapes and so on. Bye, bye, low level designers, models, animators and illustrators.

A self-driving car is of course just a robot on wheels. Uber, for example, has a vision of the future that with their app you don’t call a human driver but a self-driving car (that’s why they are worth so much). At least before their management was exposed as misogynistic Alpha monkeys. At the moment, 4.1 million people work in road transport in America alone, and you also have trains, ships and airplanes. And those numbers are much larger worldwide. This is argument 2: Self-driving vehicles will terminate millions of jobs. And you also have fewer traffic accidents. This in turn saves jobs for doctors, ambulance personnel, people who repair guardrails, ambulance chasers, and so on.

Supermarkets and Fast Food Chains are being automated at a rapid pace. In China (not exactly the land of privacy) you can walk into a mini-supermarket, grab a can of Coke, get recognized, and your bill automatically taxed. McDonalds has automatic orderstations everywhere, there is self-scan in the grocery store, and soon a robot will be filling the compartments or baking the burgers. That is argument 3, a combination of robots and software makes traditional jobs superfluous. Okay we admit, this is very similar to argument 1 and 2, but it is a nice prelude to argument 4.

Large web shops are taking over everything. Players such as AliBaba, Amazon and in our region Bol.com and Zalandoo are taking an increasing share of the market. Of course, Zalandoo also has a lot of staff, and of course people drive around in mini-vans to make deliveries, but there are much less people than all those people that worked in small shoe stores. And those small shoe shops were in more real estate, the staff had lunch in the city, drank coffee, etc. Large web shops make a lot of turnover, but they do not add a lot of value to the economy. And they also have the resources and mindset to automate their own processes. Amazon has a lot of robots in its warehouse and would prefer to deliver with autonomous drones. In short, argument 4. Webshops make more turnover but employ far fewer people than in “real” stores. Fortunately, you will no longer have to buy products.

After all, in a few years, you can simply 3D-print products. You download software and you print the product yourself or you have it assembled nearby. Now you may think of 3D printing of those amateurish cubes that “print” layer by layer, but that will soon be something from the past. Read in the further suggestions how Adidas (article) looks at the future or – even more impressive – see how Vocativ ‘prints’ the soles of the Adidas shoe from liquid. Argument 5. We will soon print everything ourselves. But, you might think now, an industry will be created for designers, and print shops, and ready-to-wear people, and printer builders. Yes, that’s right, but that is disproportionate to one of the largest industries today: logistics.

If we still print, of course, because products naturally become serices. You don’t buy DVDs, you use Netflix. You don’t buy CDs. You are using Spotify. You are not going to develop your photos, no you use Instagram. All these large technology companies provide wonderful services, but relatively few people work there. That’s Argument 6. Products become services. There is another development that is related to this, called blockchain, which can also have a profound impact. We talk about that a little later.

Okay, so – all our jobs are going to disappear. Are you already depressed? Maybe you are a student wondering why you are a at school. Do not despair. Let’s look at a few arguments that say we always have enough work.

The most heard argument is of course. We’ve heard that before. The industrial revolution would lead to job losses. The ‘computer revolution’ would lead to job losses, and now the ‘AI – revolution’ will lead to job losses, but none of it happened. In fact, unemployment has never been so low (before Corona of course). Maybe you will argue that looking at the current numbers is like looking at the weather and we are talking about the climate, but nevertheless, it is argument one. Why should the jobs disappear now?

This idea is not that a crazy idea. It is not just being ignorant. In a thick report, the Dutch Rathenau Institute claimed that about 52% of the experts see a major change and a break in the trend and the other 48% see that there is not much change in employment. And there is more good news for the “neglecters” as more and more articles are published showing that there is no evidence of massive job losses. All economic developments point to the exact opposite. Even doomsayers like Andrew McAfee is slowly retreating. Also interesting to see is that the most requested jobs for the future are traditional jobs like a nurse, a teacher and a plumber.

Argument 2, new technology requires new jobs. Self-driving cars must be maintained, software programmed, different kind of roads designed, which must be maintained again. Drones have to be controlled, programmed, personal data coaches are coming and Crispr-Cas is waiting for a Killer Tomato Catcher. That does not mean that we can relax, because these jobs require different skills. But, better a job that needs new skills than no job at all.

In addition, argument 3, we humans have infinite needs. Twelve years ago there were almost no smartphones, now it is a the huge industry full of people who make money from the hardware, software (apps) and the sales and maintenance of these phones. We constantly create new solutions to problems that we do not have yet. Not because we have to, but because we can. For example, imagine that your toilet can automatically analyze your stool every morning and give you information about how you’re doing and whether you should have something done. Then perhaps hundreds of millions of people worldwide will need to install new toilets, maintain software, analyze data, fix identified problems and so on. And that is just one example of thousands of problems that we do not yet have, but which can be solved. Or create new problems, which can be solved and so on. And now you may think: and who is going to pay for that? Well: nobody and all of us. After all, we have known for a long time that economics is not a game in which ‘a pie’ is divided, but economics is a game that must ensure that the pie continues to grow. To be succesfull as an economy requires imagination, we need to find problems we can solve.

Okay, and if arguments 1,2 and 3 don’t lead to enough jobs, we still have our strongest weapon: our imagination. Think: bullshit jobs. A term coined by David Graeber. He points us to the fact that the famous economist Keynes predicted in the 1930s that we would only have to work 15 hours a day. Keynes was right, according to Graeber, but he never expected that we would come up with a lot of pointless jobs. The bullshit jobs. Telemarketers, corporate lawyers, compliance officers, just about the entire financial world. All bullshit jobs. According to Graeber, nearly 12% of people think they have a bullshit job, and another 20% are unsure. And these people work really hard and make a lot of money. The consequence of these hardworking bullshit jobbers is that they need people to clean the house, walk the dog, treat burnouts, deliver pizza 24/7, etc. Bullshit jobs create new jobs.

This is very strange. Think about it: ff the metro driver strikes, there is an immediate impact. Chaos is the result. The public is angry. If the corporate lawyer strikes, the world may just get a little better. According to Graeber, the bullshit jobs defy the laws of capitalism. It is not a capitalist but a social choice that we believe that the in-house lawyer should be paid more than the nurse or the teacher.

God knows why.

In short, that is argument 4, when there are no more jobs, we just imagine new ones. Writing it down like this makes it sound absurd, but it becomes a lot more tangible if – like me – you have to regularly introduce yourself to people with a job titles that resemble a character from Game of Thrones. Game Changer, Agile Coach, Cloud Expert, Scrum Master, etc …

Oh yes, and the fifth argument, of course, is that maybe the speed at which technology is evolving comes to a stop. We’ve already talked about the AI ​​- Winter in crashcourse 7 and we talked about Moravec’s Paradox. Computers are very good at tasks that we consider to be very difficult (beating a chess grandmaster) and very bad at tasks that we see as simple (loading the dishwasher). We already see a lot of people doubting the abilities of AI. Autonomous cars are still way off. AI is not a good doctor. Artificial intelligence has very specific competencies and we humans are good at everything. That is the difference.

Still, if you really want to make sure you find a job that will not be automated: pick a job with that need sensorimotorskills and is not well payed. Things like archaeologist? Or animal police.

Allright, so problem number one, with imagining the future is that there are a lot uncertainties. Even if we just look at developments concerning the future of jobs above, we can easily make all kinds different predictions.

Further optional suggestions:

  • A video by Kurzgesagt on why automation is different this time (11 minutes);
  • A link to the amazing YouTube Channel of Boston Dynamics;
  • A website of the BBC where you can check if your job will be automated or not;
  • The future according to Adidas in an Article and printing soles with Vocative (video);
  • An article on Wired claiming that robots will NOT take your job;
  • The essay by David Graeber on bullshit jobs; 

Key Take aways:

  • It is hard to make predictions on technology;
  • Maybe jobs will disappear, maybe there will be more and better jobs;

STORYTELLING A DYSTOPIAN AND UTOPIAN STORY

Reading time: 3 minutes / viewing time: 6 minutes / assignment: 15 minutes

In the section above we just made a list of possible future developments. But of course there is a lot more to think about it. The most important question is probably: what does it all mean? For example: if there are no more jobs, is this a problem? Why? Because of the money? What if there is an Universal Basic Income? Money for free? Is it still a problem? Why? Because jobs define us? Give us purpose. Will we die of boredom? And so on…

What are solutions? In her book Ethical IT Innovation, Sarah Spiekermann, creates personas and she tells stories about these personas in an imagined future. This helps to envision the impact of a technology in a future and can inspire to create a better technology now.

First, watch this short, inspiring video about storytelling by the people from Pixar (3 minutes).

Let’s practice a litlle bit with storytelling ourselves. Let’s say we want assess a new technology that is a blockchain-based-system that is connected to an Universal Basic Income and microwork. Okay, this still sounds kind of fuzzy, but let me explain.

First, blockchain. Watch this video of 3 minutes that explains the concept.

Okay, now we live in 2040. There are fewer and fewer jobs. That is why most governments have issued an UBI. An Universal Basic Income. Every person from 18 years or older gets a fixed amount of money every month. Money for nothing! This amount is enough to buy a house and make sure there is food on the table. If you want more money, you can do all kinds of chores which are immediately payed through a blockchain-system called GigWallet. GigWallet is an app that lives on your phone and you can find all kind of work in there. This work is connected to your skills, friends and location.

For example, you are a great piano-player, and in your app you see a child nearby that needs a lesson. You go there, give the lesson, and automatically you are getting payed through the app. Some people are emptying garbage bins, other are installing sensors, others are mowing the lawn or doing sport lessons, inspirational speeches, cooking, massages, and so on. Other people just concentrate on meditating. Everyone is getting their UBI, and most people supplement their income by using GigWallet.

Mandatory assignment: In this PowerPoint Template you can either tell an utopian or dystopian story on a persona called Dave. Choose one, and write a short utopian or dystopian story (15 minutes).

Suppose you are developing a first version of the technology called GigWallet today, then storytelling might help you to make design changes today. Maybe you found out that some developments can be very troubling? Maybe you found out that there are some new goals you want to reach, but need some changes. The idea is that imagining the future puts you in a mindset that helps to create better innovations.

Further optional suggestions:

  • Ethical IT Innovation, a book by Sarah Spiekermann;
  • Is an Utopia always a Dystopia, short video (6 minutes).
  • An explanation video of Universal Basic Income (10 minutes);

Key Take aways:

  • Storytelling and personas can help you imagine a future;
  • Imagining a future can help you create better innovations or assess innovations that are happening now. 

AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE

Reading time: 2 minutes

Finally it is important to consider that imagining the future is something completely different than predicting it. Yogi Berra once said that making predictions is hard, especially on the future. He was absolutely right. There are to0 many uncertainties to make a predictions on the future. Take  job market, for example, there are too many unknown elements and the future will be determined not by planned schemes, but by series of coincidences.

Example one: the corona virus, that was not planned, but will have an impact. Or maybe not!
Example two: in 20 years, everyone may live to be 100 years old. When you are 65 it is time to think about a career change for the next 20 years. That changes all predictions.

In the further suggestions we have included a list of 101 things that could change the way we work today. All can have a profound impact on the future of work.

Further optional suggestions:

  • 101 ideas changing how we work today 
  • List with jobs of the future;

Key Take aways:

  • The future can not be predicted but it can be imagined.

A VERY SHORT SUMMARY OF THIS CRASHCOURSE

Congratulations. You have completed crashcourse number ten, so you got a very small taste of thinking about technology and the importance of imagining future impact in this case in relation to the jobmarket.  An appetizer, if you want. Maybe you did some further reading, so you started on the soup. Good for you. Remember: thinking about the future impact is important. It helps us to design and assess technologies today. The future can not be predicted, but it can be imagined. Using stories and personas helps imagining a future, and developments to be desired or to be avoided.