No More Working 9-to-5

Proudly It Waves
If you have driven into Omaha on West Dodge from beyond Elkhorn since Dec. 7, you likely have noticed our great new flag at Dino’s Storage. The 30-foot by 60-foot flag is flying from a 125-foot flagpole. Right now it is at half staff until month’s end in honor of the late President George H.W. Bush.

The 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday grind got you down?

Take solace: That will one day be history, according to billionaire British entrepreneur Richard Branson.
“The idea of working five days a week with two day weekends and a few weeks of holiday each year has become ingrained in society. But it wasn’t always the case, and it won’t be in the future,” Branson wrote in a recent blog. That’s because technology will change jobs currently held by humans, Branson says.

“As Google’s Larry Page and others have said, the amount of jobs available for people is going to decrease as technology progresses. New innovations will drive industries forward, but they will also reduce our reliance on people power,” Branson says. “Ideas such as driverless cars and more advanced drones are becoming a reality, and machines will be used for more and more jobs in the future. Even pilot-less planes will be become the reality in the not too distant future.”

Branson is not alone in this viewpoint. Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk has issued dire warnings about technology usurping human jobs. “There certainly will be job disruption. Because what’s going to happen is robots will be able to do everything better than us. … I mean all of us,” Musk told the National Governors Association in 2017.

But unemployment rates will about the same in 20 years, even if the kind of jobs have changed, according to Rob Atkinson, founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

If “governments and businesses are clever, the advance of technology could actually be really positive for people all over the world,” says Branson. For example, governments should pay for workers to be retrained, Branson says, and there will need to be a way to keep people’s income the same. But with solutions to such issues, more technology could help create “smarter working practices,” says Branson. “Could people eventually take three and even four day weekends? Certainly. Will job-sharing increase? I think so,” he says.

Microsoft cofounder and billionaire Bill Gates has also said advancements in technology will mean more time off. “Well, certainly we can look forward to the idea that vacations will be longer at some point,” said Gates. “The purpose of humanity is not just to sit behind a counter and sell things. More free time is not a terrible thing,” Gates added.

Branson believes more people will be able to have what he has: “I’m lucky in being able to work wherever I am, at any time, and don’t see work and play as separate – it’s all living,” Branson says. “I think this will be the case for more and more people in the future, to the benefit of businesses, countries and individuals.”

There have been some dour predictions about the potential of artificial intelligence from some high-profile technologists. For example, Musk has said A.I. will be more dangerous than North Korea. Legendary physicist Stephen Hawking says that A.I. has the potential to be the “worst event in the history of our civilization.”

Machine learning will make humans more productive and therefore able to accomplish the same amount of work in less time and that’s a good thing, says Gates. “The purpose of humanity is not just to sit behind a counter and sell things. More free time is not a terrible thing,” says Gates.

Surveillance, security and transcription are several areas where machine learning will make things faster and cheaper. “A.I. is simply better software,” Gates continues. “In these high value environments — whether it is an operating room, a jail, a factory, a courthouse — you will be able to transcribe everything that is being said, and you will be able to see things if they are safety violations even a construction site. And so you will be far more efficient in using resources, you will be far more aware of what is going on, and it is very cheap now because computers can see and hear as well as humans can.”

“This is a problem of excess, … so can you redirect people to help the elderly, to reduce class size, to help out kids with special needs? You will have the resources because you will just be so much more productive,” says Gates.

The transition will not be easy, says Gates. He says the government may need to create a safety net that allows employees to be retrained. That will be hard, though, because the rate of change in coming decades will be faster than it has been before. So the percentage of workers who need retraining will be high.

Musk has said he thinks the only option the government will have is to pay people a cash handout to live. “There is a pretty good chance we end up with a universal basic income, or something like that, due to automation,” says Musk, referring to programs through which governments pay their citizens a monthly stipend, regardless of employment. “Yeah, I am not sure what else one would do. I think that is what would happen.”