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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 23rd year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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Our jobless future - bright or dark?

13 February 2017

Around the world, governments are preparing for a future in which unemployment will be the norm and technology will be doing all the work.

In theory, this future will bring us all far more leisure time and the ability to enjoy life to the full. The reality however, might be a little different, unless we can come up with a way to ensure that the planet's wealth is more evenly distributed.

One strategy for ensuring that nobody goes without in a world without jobs is the Universal Basic Income strategy. This plan provides everyone with a basic living income, regardless of whether they are working or not.

In theory it's a great idea but I have strong doubts that it would do anything other than create a massive burst of inflation, followed by greater levels of poverty and a widening of the gap between rich and poor.

The problem is that once we transfer the majority of our jobs from human labour to technology-based solutions then those who own the technology will become increasingly rich and powerful, whilst those who do not have a job become increasingly impoverished and powerless.

A basic income will simply be "consumed" in the form of higher rents and prices for the products and services provided by the owners of the technology that now does all the work.

Sadly, philanthropists are few and far between within the ranks of those who have attained wealth and power so their goal will remain that of accumulating as much as they can at all costs.

I fear that this could create a rather nasty revolution -- as the poor and disempowered masses see the tiny group of "haves" growing ever richer and demanding ever more of the "basic income" for what ought to be the most basic entitlements of life.

Trust me, this will not end well.

Could it be that the rise of technology will actually be the catalyst for a revolt that will cast mankind back a century or more -- as those who have grown to hate the technology which has stolen their jobs act to destroy it.

Right now I see in my mind's eye, crowds of former workers rampaging through the streets and smashing any piece of technology they can find. The fallout from this would be a "tech winter" where much of what we will have gained will be consigned to the rubbish pile by those with anger in their hearts.

Of course in the post-revolt period there will be many jobs -- but not much money to pay for the labours of those who perform them. The immediate predicament of those who were disenfranchised by the rise of technology will not be a whole lot better than it was but perhaps, in a decade or two, we will have learned to share and understand the futility of collecting wealth and power just for the sake of doing so.

Or have I got this all wrong?

If we were to peek 50 years into the future, will we all be "people of leisure", with drones, robots and AI systems doing all the work that so many toil at today?

Will we have discovered the benefits of wealth-sharing? Indeed, will money still be a thing?

After all, when technology does all the work, grows our food, builds our shelter and keeps us healthy -- why not just make it all free and dispense entirely with the concepts of money and wealth?

With all this spare time at our fingertips, will we see a meteoric rise in our development and progress as more attention is focused on things such as research, development and our development as a species?

Or will the devil make work for idle hands?

Let's hear your opinions. Just what will the massive reduction in jobs that technology promises to produce actually do for society?

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