Technology is a pretty great thing, but every time we invent something that works faster or better or more efficiently, we get a little bit closer to making human labor redundant. Futurist Thomas Frey is predicting that in under two decades, two billion people will lose their jobs to technological progress. It's happened to me, and it can happen to you.
Two billion lost jobs equates to approximately 50% of all jobs that currently exist. Some new jobs will likely be created at the same time, but they'll be substantially different from existing jobs, and it won't necessarily be easy for workers to make the jump. We should reiterate that this is simply a prediction by one futurist, but given the trends that have established themselves over the last decade, we tend to agree that this is the direction that things are hopefully heading, even if the magnitude ends up not being quite so extreme.
We're not saying "hopefully" because we hate people having jobs, we're saying it because a lot of these improvements will lead to a better society as a whole. So, let's see what's going to happen, as outlined by Thomas Frey:
As it stands, power generation is expensive, inefficient and (usually) terrible for the environment in one way or another. By 2030, power will have become decentralized into a micro grid, where if your house isn't generating most of its own power from solar or wind or natural gas conversion, your neighborhood or city will have its own small, local system to get you what you need. The coal industry will vanish, the transportation industry will shrink significantly, and utility companies will have to radically restructure themselves.
Driving is a ridiculous waste of time, energy, and money. Most of us have cars that sit unused 90% of the time. A highway at rush-hour capacity is still over 80% empty space. A one hour commute every day will cost you over three weeks per year of time behind the wheel. And car accidents kill or injure more than 50 million people every year. Autonomous, decentralized cars are definitely the way to go, and since they already exist, we should have no problem adopting them within 20 years. When we do, there will be no more buses, no more taxis, no more people needed to deliver anything, far fewer gas stations and auto repair shops, and with everyone sharing cars, the overall amount of vehicles will plummet as well.
Our education system is based on a teacher giving the same class over and over every single year. This seems like a waste of time, when the teacher could just record the lecture once and then go work on something more interesting. Also, recording lectures allows for students to learn remotely and on their own time, and drastically increases the number of people who can benefit from a course, since you don't have to try to stuff them all into the same room at once. With top-notch schools like Stanford and MIT already offering their courses online and for free, it's making less and less sense to spend a huge amount of time and money getting a diploma when you could potentially learn the exact same things at home without paying anything.
3D printers are evolving rapidly, to the point where they may completely take over small and medium-sized manufacturing tasks in the near future. This isn't just making useful household objects: it's also possible to 3D print everything from clothes to food. With technology like this available, it doesn't make sense to buy things in stores anymore: just browse online for what you want, push a button, and it'll magically appear in your printer. While designers are probably safe (as are people who manufacture and support 3D printers and their components), brick and mortar retailers are going to have a hard time of it, and even larger construction projects, like houses, could transition completely to automatic 3D printing.
Well, you probably saw this coming, right? Take any task that's dull, dirty, or dangerous, and just get a robot to do it instead. Such transitions are already happening in fields like fishing, mining, large-scale agriculture, security, the military, and as robots get smarter, cheaper, and more versatile, they'll spread into domestic household tasks, too.
Now, we're not saying that you should freak out if you have a job in a field on this list. Most technological progress takes a lot longer than we think it will, giving you ample time to start training for your new career in micro-power generator installation or 3D printer maintenance. But seriously, part of the idea here is that making our lives more efficient will give us more time to do what we want to do (fun) instead of what we need to do (work), and it may simply turn out that everybody gets to work less even as our overall quality of life improves. Imagine if you never had to do domestic chores again. Imagine if you never had to go shopping again. Imagine if every time you got in a car, you could use that time to do some work, watch a movie, or take a nap.
If you look back a hundred years or so, everyone but the very rich spent the vast majority of their time just doing things that needed to be done. With technology, we've managed to make it so most people only have to work eight hours a day, get weekends off, and even get to take vacations every year. Looking forward, it's certainly plausible that this trend will continue, and disappearing jobs won't mean that more humans will be unemployed, but rather it will mean that humanity as a whole has become a more efficient species, with more of our work begin done for us resulting in more time available to do what we want with our lives.