As we champion the arrival of artificial intelligence or what has been called the fourth industrial revolution, many worry about the loss of human jobs and what that will spawn. Universities, in partnership with industry, must begin to plan for what we do with that surplus labor. Will we be able to produce enough new opportunities for the marginally educated? Will education produce an even higher premium in the near term that will force a rethinking of the old divide between education and training? Is there a way to avoid the dystopic vision of the future that so many rightly decry? What are the political, social, psychological and economic consequences of such anticipated change? No matter the effects of automation on labor and work, we know that mere attention to wages and income evades the larger question of how we ensure the dignity of labor and work in the future.
To date, the Center for Social Solutions has published on a variety of topics regarding the world of work, fragile workers, and preparing for the future; and launched a student paper competition regarding the future of work in the midwest United States. We have begun compiling a working list of organizations throughout the world that focus on the future of work. The center has also initiated a partnership with the Oxford Internet Institute to launch Wikichains, a project to encourage ethical consumption and transparency in commodity chains through open knowledge practices.
Ultimately, our effort provides critical contexts for exploring the following questions:
- What would a critical history of the discourse on automation and the “future of work” look like?
- What historical experiences and future imaginaries are eclipsed in contemporary framings and discussions of the future of work? How might we open both to be more inclusive and equitable?
- What does the plight of contemporary fragile workers tell us about the kinds of social realities that future fragile workers might face?
Exploring these questions enables us to begin making explicit some of the normative frameworks posed about the future of work, especially around issues pertaining to race, class and gender, opening up new lines of inquiry for confronting and understanding this historical moment.