In the 1930s, celebrated economist John Maynard Keynes predicted his grandchildren would be working 15-hour weeks because of the impact of technology.
Fast-forward to the present day and we have newspaper columns being filled with reports of workers burning out on the job and advice on how to switch off after your allotted 40 hours of work.
With the emergence of AI, we’re again seeing a growing narrative that technology will reduce the number of hours we’re required to work.
But is this something capitalism will actually allow to happen? And if it does, how do you go about ensuring that people have enough work and money to get by?
Justin Flitter, founder of business consultancy New Zealand AI tells The Front Page these are important economic questions that will eventually need to be answered.
“We have to realise that the economy is about to go through a restructure,” he says.
“It’s a lot like climate change, just a hell of a lot faster. With climate change, we’re talking about managed retreat and supporting people who are in a position for no fault of their own. And if we’re going to have tens of thousands of workers in a similar position with artificial intelligence, are we going to hang people out to dry or are going to manage a supportive transition?”
Flitter doesn’t mince his words. Even perceived creative jobs, like hosting a radio show or podcast, are at risk of replacement by AI.
“You should be very concerned about your job security,” he tells me on The Front Page podcast.
“We already have digital [interfaces] around the world that are not just writing and publishing the news, but also presenting the news in digital, entirely on digital channels. We’ve got digital radio stations with digital voices that are doing it. You literally have one person writing the script, and you can then have that turned into a voice in any language you possibly want.”
Flitter says it will be integral for people to build skills that fit into a world that’s increasingly driven by AI technology.
The challenge is that people might lose their jobs before they’re given the chance to upskill, meaning they won’t have a means to support themselves.
So how do you solve that problem?
There are growing murmurings in political and economic circles about the introduction of universal basic income, which would give all residents in a country a set amount of income every month. What they do beyond that is up to them.
Speaking to The Front Page, Madison Reidy (host of Markets with Madison) says people have been talking about this for decades.
“It’s a policy that’s been raised by numerous political parties in history … but it’s risen again because of these conversations about AI and the displacement of jobs,” says Reidy.
Reidy says there are concerns about how inflationary this could be, but there is also value in terms of giving everyone the same safety net and starting point.
So is this something that politicians should consider more seriously? And if not, what other regulations should be put in place amid the prospect of AI taking over?
Listen to the full episode of The Front Page podcast for a full rundown of the fascinating changes coming to our workforce.
The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am. It is presented by Damien Venuto, an Auckland-based journalist with a background in business reporting who joined the Herald in 2017.