The publication presents three highly specific alternative visions of the future and potential options for action. It wants to make a contribution to the general debate on the future of work and make findings of the project more accessible and better-known; and above all to focus attention on both the long-term and global perspectives.
To complement public discourse on long-term perspectives – and to do so from a global, not national or regional standpoint – the Millen- nium Project (in two publications supported by the Bertelsmann Stiftung) has carried out its own project on the subject. Since the distant time horizon and the unpredictability of possible technological developments result in a great degree of uncertainty, we opted for the methodology of scenario development. The latter always offers alternative visions of the future and, whilst paying close attention to how the main lines of development are shaped, never loses sight of other conceivable development paths.
Drawing on an analysis of specialist literature, a total of three Delphi surveys (each involving several hundred international experts) and some 30 work- shops across the world were conducted by the project in a process which lasted several years and involved the participation of experts from all over the world, scenarios up to the year 2050 and corresponding options for action.
Key Statements at a Glance
– Discourse on the future of work requires a long-term view of the future.
A view limited to the next ten years is by no means adequate since the possible effects of aggregated rapid progress in a broad spectrum of technology fields may only be revealed within a much longer time horizon.
– On the one hand, setting a much longer time horizon involves a high degree of uncertainty because, on the other, the exact course of technological developments and their impact on work and society cannot be precisely cali- brated. Thus thinking in terms of alternative scenarios is useful because it enables the specification of potential developments paths and advances the present discussion on possible forms of action by focusing not only on risks but also on opportunities.
– The project has drawn up three visions of the future to posit how interactions between work and technology could play out by 2050.
– All three scenarios are based on the premise that technological change will be rapid (and actually much more rapid than many people believe today), and that it will radically transform the ways people work. On the one hand, because some forms of work will be replaced by machines but also because in all three scenarios the skills and aptitudes called for are other than those in demand today, and because collaboration between humans and machines will be much closer, in some cases extremely close.
– The scenarios show the need for a new redistribution of opportunities and, in particular, a new redistribution of income and wealth.
– Simultaneously, the scenarios show that from the standpoint of the experts, successfully mastering the challenges posed by the nexus of work and technology requires far-ranging political measures for a new definition of the social and economic systems.
What we can do today: Five selected avenues of action
– Economy and Work: new rules or a new social contract are needed for a changing world of work, in particular the introduction of framework conditions tailored to new forms of work and self-employment, for instance, the equivalent of trade unions for freelance professionals.
– Government and Governance: The state also has to change institutions and processes and become more closely aligned to long-term perspectives and more proactive in anticipating and shaping the future (and not just the future of work and technology).
– Science and Technology: Strengthened forms of cross-institutional and international cooperation are needed to prevent the break-neck pace of new technological development from eluding both our understanding and our control.
– Media, Culture and Art: We need appealing and specific representations of positive forms of work and use of future technology that could be nurtured by a new alliance in the cultural sector.
– Education and Learning: We should teach skills and not (just) knowledge, and promote meta-skills (such as the capability for cooperation, creativity and problem-solving) to prepare the way for (more) multi-track employ- ment biographies.
– If we consider the current rapid pace of technological transformation in conjunction with a host of global and complexly interrelated challenges (from climate change to cybersecurity), then we also need to view the future of work from within this context. In terms of the actual substance of the discourse on the future of work, if we speak only of the advances of technology or digitali- zation, home offices, cultures of new leadership, or driverless cars, in many respects this means that we are taking far too limited a view. What is now needed are long-term target visions of a sustainable economic and social order in which technology serves as a means for solving global societal chal- lenges. If we succeed in bridging intercultural value differences, such target visions – supported by far-reaching redistribution – can aid in making work good and meaningful for a much larger part of the world population than is the case today.