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  • Writer's picturePandwe Gibson

The Future of Play

As a result of COVID-19, Forbes, Oxford Economics, and McKinsey are all preparing the public for a 30-40% decrease in manufacturing jobs by 2030. What’s more, studies suggest that 40% of all jobs lost during the pandemic will not be returning. Many have questioned how communities will be able to thrive without work, particularly when you have Harvard researchers and most other credible sources arguing that most Americans are “just getting by” and are “severally budget constrained”.

The following questions underlie almost every article, interview and social media post:

What will people do all day?

How will people get food?

How will they make a living?

Will the US be able to maintain its status as a first world power without increasing worker productivity?

Sociologists, pundits, politicians and not for profit/NGO leaders are writing doom and gloom articles about the future of work and how AI will replace us all; but as a millennial, I want to take a slightly different approach.

First to get us on the same page, Lionel Robbins, the distinguished British economist, defines economics as the study of the use of scarce resources that have alternative uses. Due to global copycatting and the American mission to spread Democracy, IE, and our economic system everywhere, the world practices a similar Neoclassical economic social order. This is a good thing according to Thomas Sowell in Basic Economics.

“Back in 1978, less than 10 percent of China’s Agriculture output was sold in open markets, instead of being turned over to the government for distribution. But, by 1990, 80 percent was sold directly in the market. The net result was more food and greater variety.”

China went from a country of great famine to addressing obesity and a population explosion in little over a decade’s time. However, it also serves as proof that the scarcity marketing model has been successful and most American and other global citizens’ desires exceed what they can comfortably afford. As such, there is a misconnect between need vs demand.

This is important because it explain why doom and gloom marketing exists in the first place. The nature of the media is to create and fuel demand and scarcity because that is how our economy assigns value. The scarcity mindset has been engrained so deeply that we rarely question the notion of need. Understanding that no one individual or set of individuals in a free market controls or coordinates in any way other than through scarcity to drive demand should free us. We know there will always be food and shelter - the basics.

But still, how do we prepare for what is to come? What if your status has been moved to essential? Today, the biggest debate is about teachers returning to work and if remote work ready? To answer these questions, let’s take a history lesson.

Looking at history through an American economics lens, we started out as agrarian society exporting goods based on large profits and free labor, which ultimately created cities and the creation of the United States of America. But beginning in the 1760’s, the Industrial Revolution took off and massive free labor was no longer needed. The country grew a conscious at the same time that Eli Whitney, a Black American, invented the cotton gin that automated the work formerly done by the enslaved.

The Industrial Revolution led to a new period of prosperity but also the opportunity for an increased number of white men to continue perusing the American dream while Black women and men entered a slightly different kind of indenture. The main equality in this period was limited to access to education for most.

Fast forward to the 1930s. The Great Depression hit hard alongside tensions leading up to World War II. Remember Europe was in turmoil and was buying all our products? The US had no military power but we had artists, innovators, scientists and dreamers. Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed the countries first Innovation Czar, Varniver Bush. Bush, an American engineer and scientist set up innovation hubs all over the country to seed tech, financial, and military research and development sectors that would fuel our nation’s prosperity through the 21st century.

Once again we gained a conscious out of need, and white women gained the right to work. Rosie the Riveter with born. My grandmother and great aunt were no longer relegated to the jobs of a maid or teacher. Instead, they became scientist working on the Manhattan project which would later lead to the development of atomic energy.

Out of this age and the prior period, innovations such as the AC, refrigerators, elevators, refrigerated trucks, electronic microphones, GPS, radar, ironing boards, home security, traffic lights, TV, the electric grid, American whiskey, and the typewriter all led to the development of the first computer. Soon the PC color monitor was created. Innovations in medicine like the first heart transplant, separating conjoined twins, blood transfusions, etc. were to the credit of Black American men and women. But I digress.

After the turn of the 21st century, the 2008 market crash hit curbing the ability of Americans to live beyond their means. It was just like in the Roaring Twenties that lead to the depression. From the top to the bottom of the economy, though the bank were the biggest culprits, the market self-corrected by regulating choices to insure freedom and personal accountability.

So a new opportunity is now upon us. I would like to refer to Salim Ismail 2014 book, Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, cheaper than yours and what to do about it. He speaks about the future and outlines a path to human happiness. There will not be enough jobs for everyone; but again that is a great thing. If we look at our evolution, we went from one group working for free to a few groups working. Everyone has been able to work in principle, but maybe we are back to a few “working” in the traditional sense.

I for one will no more miss driving a car than my grandmother missed using a wash board to clean all the clothing and linens of the house. Technology is changing in a new period - the age of Artificial intelligence. Ismail point out the AI will not replace the important aspects of life—art, design, music, poetry, innovation, creativity, and family time — any time some. So what does this mean for the future? Americans and the rest of the world will have to relearn how to PLAY.

I know that sounds scary, and it will undoubtable mean hard work like in every other period of prosperity; but I believe it necessary for the next period of human existence. It will mean reprogramming and reimagining from our strengths of ongoing discovery and innovation.

Okay, if you don’t like this ending, maybe you like Kai-Fu Lee whose 2018 text “AI Super-Powers China, Silicon Valley and the New World” order lays out a different future with hope for work. He outlines the seven giants of AI research: Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent and what they don’t have and can’t do.

Large companies cannot pivot. After a first few wins, they only grow through acquisitions, or buying their competitors, because they can’t innovate themselves. It is up to the startups and new thinkers — those who know how to PLAY and problem solve to innovate. In just a decade China has risen to become real player in AI innovation because they have moved from their copy cat initial strategy to creative market economic problem solving. They have learned to read the world’s demand, thereby giving hope to those who may be on the fence about learning how to code or join the tech ecosystem. It is not too late, and the winners are those who know how to play J.

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