This post is inspired by the very interesting twitter thread started by Jeff Morris Jr. He shared the 10 topics that he was interested in at the moment. I responded with my own list and thought it would be fun to go into a bit more detail on each of my topics. Unfortunately, I only made it through the first one by the time I hit a length that is appropriate for a weekly blog post. Especially one started late because your wife invited friends over on a Sunday afternoon. Sunday afternoons are generally reserved for rest, relaxation, and my usual post-church uniform of a Polo shirt and gym shorts. Luckily, being social was great fun and the uniform was a big hit with all. But I digress. Without further ado, the number one topic that I am interested in at the moment (and the one which has been monopolizing the lion’s share of my thoughts and attention recently)
The Future of Work
If I can only write on one topic, it makes sense that it is this one. I am fascinated by how we work and what our work will look like in the future and many of the other topics on this list are reflected as aspects of this one. Outside of your health and your spouse, your work has the greatest impact on how much (or how little) you enjoy your life. If you peel back most of the socio-political problems our society is grappling with today, I would wager that you would find work (or the lack thereof) at or near the center of almost all of them. Nearly every country in the western world has experienced resurgences of nationalist political sentiments in recent years and I would argue that the root cause of this growing political movement is the changing landscape of work. Work today is unrecognizable to what it was even a half-century ago and the rate of change is only accelerating. Workers are no longer staying in one job and slowly working their way up the corporate ladder. Whereas before, a blue-collar worker could expect to support their family, own a house, and send their kids to college in any city in America. Now, you have some cities like San Francisco where someone making $100,000 a year is near the poverty line.
The future of work is the thing that takes up more of my intellectual brainpower than any other. My goal in life is to be a company builder. It's why I got into venture capital and it is why I will be doing whatever it is I do next. I firmly believe that the highest good that you can do for anyone is to provide them with a job where they can find fulfillment and support their family. Teach a man to fish instead of giving him a fish. This belief is the guiding principle behind all that I do.
But what happens when the robots start catching fish faster and better than people can? The future of work is uncertain. No, AI is not coming for your job tomorrow (anyone who tells you that current state AI is anything other than supped-up linear regression is lying), but we are moving in that direction. Slowly, but surely, advances in artificial intelligence and automation will render more and more jobs obsolete. I believe, as with all other technical changes in human history, that this will unlock a myriad of other, better jobs for human beings that we can’t even imagine today.
But what will those jobs look like? That is the question that I have been spending more and more of my time thinking about. You should always be skeptical of anyone claiming to know what the future looks like. But if I had to guess…
I would guess that the future looks a lot like Avalon.
Avalon is a legendary island in the Arthurian legend. It is where Excalibur was forged and it is the home of Morgan le Fay. Avalon is a land of abundance.
…it produces all things of itself; the fields there have no need of the ploughs of the farmers and all cultivation is lacking except what nature provides. Of its own accord it produces grain and grapes, and apple trees grow in its woods from the close-clipped grass. The ground of its own accord produces everything instead of merely grass, and people live there a hundred years or more.
I believe that the future will bear a striking resemblance to this mystical island. As manual labor and simplistic tasks are automated away what will we do with our newfound abundance?
My guess is that work will look and feel much more similar to the video games of today than it would the work of today. Remote tools and infrastructure will allow anyone to “work” from anywhere. Abstractions enabled by virtual reality, decentralization, gamification, incentive structures, and artificial intelligence will make work more fun and gratifying. Creativity will become the currency of the day as data analysis becomes more and more commoditized. I see futuristic artisans plying their trades and selling digital goods in online markets as world-renowned musicians perform in front of sold-out crowds seated in internet amphitheaters. Status will be definable, measurable, and meritocratic. Communities will be both hype-niche and global in scale. The future won’t be a utopia, but I do believe that it will be a time of unprecedented access. You will be defined by what you produce and create, not by your demographic profile. Anyone, from anywhere, will be able to build their own “job” and support their family doing things they find intrinsically fulfilling, regardless of what other people believe a “real job” looks like.
We’ve got a long way until we are anywhere near this future. I truly believe the potential is there to design the world we always wanted. The transition won’t be painless, but the payoffs will be worth it.
Avalon is coming.
And I think it may be coming sooner than many of you think.