Jim Guszcza, Peter Evans-Greenwood, and Harvey Lewis Discussions about the future of work often coalesce around one major point of contention: the impact of automation on the workforce. Pessimists believe that humans will be made redundant by artificial intelligence (AI) and robots, leaving them unable to find work in a future bereft of jobs.

Optimists believe that historical norms will reassert themselves and technology will create more jobs than it destroys, resulting in new occupations that require new skills and knowledge and new ways of working. If work is viewed essentially as a collection of tasks, then AI’s growing capabilities may indeed seem troublesome.

Rarely does anyone engaged in this debate step back to examine what is meant by “work” itself. Yet both the pessimistic and optimistic views are founded on a culturally bound conception of work, shaped by the ideas and practices of the Industrial Revolution.

In this conception, work is seen as the performance of a well-defined task or set of tasks, laid out sequentially end to end, in assembly-line fashion, to achieve a particular outcome. Efficiency gains come from specialization, which allows workers to become better and faster at a given task through practice, and from automation, which replaces the human task performer with an even better and faster machine.

Atomizing work into a predefined set of tasks suits neither human nor intelligent machine. To be sure, people can perform specialized tasks, and AI can be used to automate them. Read more from theatlantic.com…

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