Across the world, algorithms, mechanisation, and various forms of artificial intelligence (AI) are shaping the decisions of employers, and changing the daily realities of employees. Just as the Industrial Revolution saw chain production specialise - and limit - workers’ activity, so has the integration of computers in companies’ functioning debunked the old correlation between value and manpower. When Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion, the company only had 13 souls working for it. This time last year, consultancy firm McKinsey announced it would conduct a study over several years investigating the effect automation might have on our jobs and production methods. It predicted that automation would foster a new creativity and meaning in the workplace, change the occupations classed as high-wage, and utterly redefine jobs and business processes. Moreover, the specialist consensus is that about half of today’s work activities could be automated thanks to demonstrated technologies. An extra 13% of US jobs could also be robotised once language-processing mechanisms achieve median levels of human performance.
It comes as no surprise, then, that recent years have seen a profusion of discussions on how AI will impact our future. In 2014, Yuval Noah Harari, a University of Jerusalem lecturer, published a bestseller announcing the creation of a new, “useless” class, made up of people whose jobs would disappear. Since then, countless editorials have been written on the end of the job market as we know it, and many a utopian has proclaimed the age of comfortable inactivity to be around the corner. But will machines’ increasing independence challenge humans’ sense of purpose, and disrupt traditional roles? If we are to take science-fiction author William Gibson at his word - “the future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed yet” - we must decide what ‘evenness’ means.