Will Blockchain Disrupt the ‘Jobless’ Future?
A flurry of books and articles are raising alarm about a “jobless future.” Rapidly evolving technologies, they warn, are doing away with more than the need for human muscle and dexterity. Self-learning machines will out-think our human brains. Life-like robots will deliver care and services with a super-human patience, politeness, and efficiency. In the future, therefore, no humans need apply. From baristas to surgeons, to marriage counselors—just about everyone’s job is going away, and the social, psychological, and economic impact will be devastating.
Brave New Digital World
I take a contrary view. I do not think that work will disappear. New needs will be created. There will be new ways to contribute and different things to do.
While history since the industrial revolution shows that some jobs do disappear with new technologies, overall, job loss is temporary, as new kinds of jobs are created.
Some argue that “this time will be different” because the technological disruption goes beyond physical work to displace white collar and service jobs. While I agree that we find ourselves in a time of tremendous change, I also note that the future has a way of way of surprising us.
Unleashing a New Age of Entrepreneurship?
Blockchain, for example, could create new kinds of work by revolutionizing the way that transactions—buying, selling, trade, barter, investments, and pay for work—are conducted.
Blockchain, developed as the system of record for the Bitcoin cybercurrency, is a “distributed ledger” that maintains a transparent record of transactions across a network of unrelated computers. Data is updated by consensus in blocks linked to each other, providing a permanent, verified, end-to-end record of every transaction, shared by all users. A blockchain can be public, as with Bitcoin, or private, accessible only to particular participants. Built-in cryptography and encryption promise to address challenges of cyberfraud, identity, authentication, and privacy protection. With its transparent, documented audit trails, blockchain could also help prevent and uproot corruption.
Web of Trust
Of course, blockchain is a hot topic right now. As with other emerging technologies, it’s important to recognize both the potential—and the hype, which glosses over significant technical and practical considerations.
Nevertheless, for our purposes it’s worth pondering how a secure, rules-based platform of “cyber trust” controlled by no one entity, might affect the future of work.
From micro-loans, to trade, to services, to asset-sharing, as blockchain platforms and services evolve, they promise to empower individuals to conduct business directly with other individuals in an easy and secure way. Not only could blockchain services restore ownership over one’s individual identity and privacy and shift agency to individuals—they could enable a pure marketplace in which the determination of value for work performed shifts to individuals as well, rather than to institutions or intermediators.
Quality of Future
All of which raises the question of whether a “jobless” future might be a good thing? Rather than fear “competition” from robots, AI, and other advances, perhaps we should envision and work for a future in which we use technology to free ourselves from the constraints of “jobs” defined by others, to focus on work that we ourselves value and want to do?
As multiple studies show, it is connection with self, family, friends and community—too often sacrificed in today’s job-based economy—that contribute to health and happiness.
Blockchain is one factor that, by minimizing the “human” risks of fraud, exploitation and distrust from our transactions with each other, could help us create a future of work that is, ultimately, more humane.