Future Technologies. Have we reached “peak jobs”?

ImageIf I’m born again, I want my job to be “Senior Futurist”. This is the job title of a gentleman by the name of Klaus Ægidius Mogensen, who works at the Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies and has recently released a 62-page report titled Future Technologies.

The report is only available to member organizations, but I want to thank my good friend Alessandra Losito and her employer Pictet for sharing it. Here are a few of the most intriguing possibilities that Mr. Mogensen throws our way (all dates, of course, “subject to some uncertainty”):

  • 2020: Free GMO trade agreements between US and EU.
  • 2025: The MARS ONE project sends the first colonists to Mars (however, also note the prediction for 2037: MARS ONE gives up sending more colonists to failed Mars colony.)
  • 2034: Authorities finally give up censoring the Internet. (Yay!)
  • 2040: 75% of cars worldwide are fully autonomous robot cars.

In 2035, the author also says, 50% of present-day job types are wholly or mostly automated. The rapidly growing use of robots (and more generally software, I guess, not just the variety with hardware attached) leads to jobless growth: adding to that, “individuals unemployed by automation have to find jobs in fields with lower productivity, causing a decline in overall productivity, in spite of increased productivity in industries where a lot of automation is possible.” And here is the wild card, or “possible extreme future event”:

In the long term, it is possible that robots and computers will handle all the necessary work, making it unnecessary for people to do other work. This can lead to an economy that is not based on work as a source of earning money; something that is central to present-day economics.

I have to admit that I find this scenario very extreme. It jars with a present-day reality where blue-collar jobs consume 40 hours a week and almost everybody I know in white-collar, corporate jobs is regularly working 50-60 hours per week (you’d think we’d be smarter than that). Is this prediction an extreme case of the “lump of labor” fallacy - in which case, we shouldn’t worry, because new work to be performed will keep popping out? Is it perhaps something that will truly happen, only a lot farther into the future than we think, as these things tend to do (re-read my rant about the Singularitarian future)?

But, on the other hand, unemployment is real, and jobless recoveries (where we have recoveries at all) are a fact. And well-documented authors such as Brynjolfsson and McAfee (The Second Machine Age) are worried about very much the same issues.

So, let’s go along with the futurist thought experiment and imagine a future where the work to be done by humans is vastly reduced: way after a brief moment of “peak jobs”, so to speak, that is already slightly behind us. What happens? Is this a scenario where billions of idle people consume all their time in adolescent ennui, addictive entertainment, and training for holy wars? Will capital (invested in robots) earn all the money, and labor none of it? Is Piketty right? Will the masses live in destitution? Will suicides skyrocket? And what can we do about it?

Evolutionary technologies may claim to be ethically neutral. Revolutionary technologies never are. We need ethicists along with educators, economists and technologists to help us craft a sustainable future – one that we want our children to live in. Forget about privacy, climate change, human cloning and Mars landings: the central ethical issue in 21st-century politics will be “peak jobs”. The search for a 21st-century John Rawls is open, and more urgent than it ever was.

Milan, Italy: Summer 2014 Restaurant Top Ten

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Fine dining in Milan has never been in such great shape. If you are looking for that special dinner, you have a wide range of choices: traditional or stylish, formal or casual, classical or adventurous. But they all have in common passionate chefs and outstanding quality. Who are the Top Ten? This is the definitive Summer 2014 list from my trusted sources in the Milanese food and wine world.

  1. Enrico Bartolini
  2. Ristorante Berton
  3. Cracco
  4. Innocenti Evasioni
  5. Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia
  6. Vun al Park Hyatt
  7. Manna
  8. La Bottega del Vino
  9. Al Pont de Ferr
  10. Ceresio 7

Photo: Enrico Bartolini’s liquorice-filled raspberries.

The beauty of living in Italy

A few days after the end of a fantastic Milano Design Week, where Milan blossomed around the world leading event in furniture and home design, let me reflect on one of the reasons why for me there’s no place like home: the quality of our homes.

I have lived in Germany, United States, Spain and Switzerland, and, outside the very top end of the real estate market – and often not even there, as plenty of Silicon Valley millionaires are known to live in rickety wood-frame houses, whose anti-seismic qualities are their only redeeming virtue – I have yet to see a place where the quality of urban living is as high as Italy. Our architects, designers, furniture makers are the reason why everybody aspires to “Italian living”. And they tell me that their Italian customers are the ones pushing them towards excellence: they won’t tolerate a lackadaisical design, a slapdash assembly, an imperfect color scheme. Having an exacting clientele at home makes our home design industry a worldwide winner.

I also want to take the opportunity to thank the superlative interior design team for the Milan home I recently furnished and moved into. Many people played a role, but here are the key ones:

A few images of the work in progress and the end product.

20140325_173627VLUU L110  / Samsung L110VLUU L110  / Samsung L110

VLUU L110  / Samsung L110

VLUU L110  / Samsung L110

Next Generation Women Leaders: Paris, May 22-24, 2014

SandrineIs your sister, cousin, daughter, niece or friend a university student or young graduate with up to six years’ work experience? Then suggest that she apply to Next Generation Women Leaders, a McKinsey workshop in Paris, May 22-24. The deadline for applications is March 23.

I haven’t seen the full program and speakers’ list yet, but I know from the NGWL Facebook page that participants will be able to meet the super-accomplished Sandrine Devillard (pictured; bio here) as well as other leaders within and outside the Firm. You can refer more participants here (and earn the chance to win an iPad Mini); on top of the event itself, there will also be a series of online follow-ups for applicants who did not get to go to Paris.

Workshops like this are a great way for women to develop their leadership profile. Remmber, the earlier you start thinking of yourself as a leader, the earlier you actually become one!

On Snowpiercer, post-apocalyptic tales, and cult movies

SnowpiercerAs a poet and politician named Dante Alighieri descends through the circles of Hell, ascends Purgatory and reaches the highest sphere of Heaven, so a rebel leader named Curtis Everett moves from the tail of the Train hosting the planet’s only human survivors to the Holy Locomotive that drives it in a looping route around a frozen Earth.

Dante starts out lost in his dark wood, hungry for knowledge and salvation, meets a large set of characters placed in the afterlife according to their actions and sins in life, and ends his journey with a vision of “the Love which moves the sun and the other stars”. Curtis starts out in the filthy windowless final carriage of the train where he has spent half his life, driven by hatred and revenge, and ends his journey in a luminous perpetual-motion engine meeting Wilford, the creator of the train and the dystopian society it hosts, a microcosm where everybody has their own place based on the price they were able to afford to pay to board the train and escape death.

snowpiercer-poster-chris-evansSnowpiercer is a 2013 South Korean movie directed by Bong Joon-ho, based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, written in the early 1980s by Jacques Lob, Benjamin Legrand and Jean-Marc Rochette. Oppression, violence, food and water, addiction, clairvoyance, self-mutilation, class war, revolt: just when you think the story cannot cram one more ingredient into its plot, a new twist takes place – say, child abduction or cannibalism - and glues you to the screen.

You know I am a fan of end-of-civilization tales, but Snowpiercer stunned me. It has the guts to take a few hundred survivors of a man-made climactic catastrophe and to truly, really do away with them in a spectacular final train wreck. (And perhaps that is all good: who would want to live in what looks like Panem from the Hunger Games, sequentially crammed onto a high-speed train?) We are drawn to post-apocalyptic stories because they force our imagination to answer uncomfortable questions. What would I do in such extreme straits? Would I survive, maintain my dignity? Would I be able to defend my family, my friends? Would I rise to be a leader for them?

Cinematically and visually, this movie’s claustrophobic appeal recalls such classics as Brazil (1985), The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989), and Strange Days (1995). It rarely happens anymore, but after two hours in the movie theater, I came out feeling I wanted to watch it all over again. Snowpiercer is scheduled to be released in the United States on June 27, 2014. It will become a cult movie. Don’t miss it.

Italian politics: more fog

matteorenziTomorrow morning, barring surprises, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano will give Matteo Renzi, who has led the Democratic Party for the past two months, the task to form a new government.

Last year, I wrote that the government formed in the spring of 2013 – whose leader turned out to be Enrico Lettawould most likely have a minimal mandate, in view of its foreseeably short lifespan, and that electoral reform would be its centerpiece. I predicted, alas correctly, that fiscal reform, economic growth, and jobs, as crucial as they were, just seemed too big a mountain to climb in this political weather, and nothing much would happen there. But, as it turned out, we do not even have the much-awaited electoral reform; and while our Constitutional Court hacked away at some of the issues with the previous law, it has de facto reverted us to a proportional system that only the smaller parties really want, and that would merely perpetuate our current political stalemate if we were to vote under its rules.

It has been two years and three months since Silvio Berlusconi stopped being Prime Minister (and almost three months since he lost his Senate seat). While he was in charge, I held out hope that, once he had left power, many things would change; women would feel whole again; Italy would undergo a civic and creative Renaissance. But, in spite of valiant efforts by the capable Mr. Monti and the brave Mr. Letta, we feel like we only wasted more time. Good luck to the bold Mr. Renzi: he and his team will enjoy a very short honeymoon before they deliver – or disappoint.