At this year’s Davos World Economic Forum, Google’s co-founder, Sergey Brin, professed surprise at the rapid onslaught of AI — artificial intelligence. “This revolution has been very profound and definitely surprised me even though I was right in there”, commented Mr. Brin, whose Alphabet unit leads the AI charge. He advised that these developments have enormous global repercussions on all aspects of commerce and law, and certainly on employment.
Canada’s Minister of Finance, the Honourable Bill Morneau, has conceded that the ‘new normal’ of employment is transience. According to the government, employees should not contemplate long-term, full-time engagement by employers. The veracity of this paradigm is evidenced in the “under-employment” of a disturbingly high percentage of Canada’s job market entry-age applicants. A recent article in the Toronto Star addressed the effect of robotics upon the workforce. Many reasons present including the persistence of elderly employment well past “conventional” retirement, the “attention gap” unfairly attributed to millennials, and the automation of the workplace.
The Courts have struggled with the reinvigoration of the workforce via retirement, only to dismiss the ‘fresh blood’ approach in favour of the rights of the aged. To that extent, ageism is an actionable bias. But Alvin Toffler, in his 1971 classic Future Shock, warned of such myopia:
“The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they – at some distant point in the future – will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely… because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.”
But what is perhaps most daunting to the young and missed on the old is that which is on the immediate horizon: overarching automation. Listen to Styx’s lyrical admonition:
The problem’s plain to see
Too much technology
Machines to save our lives
We all applaud and are rendered awestruck by technology: it’s damnably infectious. This piece is written on a handheld device that reportedly has a million times the memory of the onboard computer that landed humans on the moon. We simply can’t wait to upgrade. We can’t do without; we can’t look away let alone up. Understood: it’s damnably addictive.
Restaurants are announcing the fully automated drive-through, the product never touched by human hands. Drones are used for delivery. Pick and place robots handle manufacturing, production and warehousing. Driverless vehicles are sponsored and government licensed. And AI is the fastest growing undertaking of our engineering incubators, also heavily funded by industry and government.
So without forestalling the inevitable, perhaps we might join Brin in some sober reflection. Toffler basically told that prior generation — mine — that society will rue the day individuals pay for the pleasure of working, pay for “purpose”. In the world of unpaid apprenticeships — eligible, educated, motivated, qualified candidates willingly work for free for the luxury of experience — perhaps that rueful future is nigh.
Employers need to harmonize the wonderment of technology with the wondrous ‘humanity’ of gainful fulsome employment. Toffler: “The future always comes too fast and in the wrong order.” Arguably not, but as fast as it comes it should countenance the rich reward of gainful fulfilling employment.
We should applaud Brin’s sobriety of thought: “technology’s evolution is ‘inherently chaotic’ and changes require debate about the proper ways for society to adjust. ‘These are deep and powerful philosophical questions but I don’t know that we’re equipped to answer them’.” The co-founder of the world’s leading source of technological advancement couples circumspection with positivity: “automation may allow people to take up more intellectually demanding, creative or artistic pursuits. ‘Some of the more mundane tasks are alleviated through technology and people will find more and more creative and meaningful ways to spend their time’.”
Hopefully through the nobility that comes with gainful permanent employment. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.
 Satariano, Adam. “Google’s Sergey Brin ‘Surprised’ by Speed of AI Advancements.” Bloomberg 19 January 2017 (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-01-19/google-s-sergey-brin-surprised-by-speed-of-ai-advancements).
 Leicester, John. “As robots take jobs, Europeans mull free money for all.” Associated Press 16 January 2017 (https://www.thestar.com/business/2017/01/16/as-robots-take-jobs-europeans-mull-free-money-for-all.html).
 Satariano, ibid.