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The Social Solution to Automation

In our efficiency-obsessed society, new technologies are deployed with the single-minded objective of boosting productivity and eliminating the need for human labor. But rather than worry about the "end of work," we should be expanding the opportunities for human interactions within the framework of a new social economy.

WELLINGTON – Nowadays, one struggles to think of any jobs that will still be available for our children when they grow up. Panicked parents are increasingly trying to anticipate the next big digital thing, so that they can give their kids a leg-up over all the other humans whose jobs will soon be automated. Accountants and radiographers are already doomed, but surely the developers perfecting driverless cars or adding new features to Facebook are safe, right? 

Instead of thinking this way, we should view the emergence of fabulously efficient digital technologies as an opportunity to create new kinds of jobs that satisfy our social natures. This approach would not only solve the problem of the “end of work”; it would also address one of modernity’s greatest ills: loneliness.

Socially isolated people are sadder and sicker than those who enjoy meaningful human connections, and their numbers are growing. According to a 2016 commentary in the New York Times, “Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent.”

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