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Humans And The Collapse Of Work


The Digital Monk

We are witnessing the digitalization of professions. Not so long ago, it would have been inconceivable to take yoga classes online, or to follow an entire university course at a distance via the possibilities offered by the Internet. Beyond this phenomenon, there is of course a disappearance of professions that were previously thought to be safe. For most of them, it won’t be a total disappearance, but rather a significant reduction in the amount of work carried out by human beings compared to that done by artificial intelligence. Take graphic designers, for example. Until recently, it was thought that this was creative work that no machine could replace. But this is not the case. A large proportion of graphic designers will find themselves out of work for lack of clients. The best ones and those with a full portfolio of clients will no doubt survive, while the rest will have to reinvent themselves and find another line of work. This leads us to think that professions as ancient as that of the monk are in the process of being transformed. The monk (and a fortiori any profession dedicated to religion) who has lived mainly from charity can now leave his communal existence and try his hand at an online profession. Here, he can find faithful followers who will delight in his advice while offering alms digitally. In the past, the influencers in traditional societies were the men and women of the Church. In my opinion, it’s only logical that the latter should occupy the spaces of the new generations, i.e. the Internet, so that they too can influence society in their own way.

Creative Destruction In The 21St Century

Creative destruction is a phenomenon highlighted by Schumpeter, who describes the consequences of economic modernization. Jobs in the primary sector are replaced by those in the secondary sector, which in turn are replaced by those in the tertiary sector. Today, when referring to AI, we speak of 3rd generation industrialization. The implication is that creative destruction is at work, and that new jobs will replace those that have disappeared. But is this really the case? Are we still in this configuration? What lies beyond the tertiary, the quaternary or the precipice?

The Quaternary Or The Precipice

Logic would dictate that we should be able to offer new jobs to all those who will lose theirs as a result of current technological advances, which can be summed up succinctly as “artificial intelligence”. But there’s no guarantee that human intelligence will continue to outperform and, above all, outperform its artificial counterparts. The quaternary sector was conceptualized by Michèle Debonneuil, and brings together a whole range of disparate activities, such as local services, home services and personal services. It’s a sector that also includes what’s often referred to as the collaborative economy, i.e. an economy facilitated by portable applications that enable goods to be pooled to amortize costs (house, car, etc.). Yet, on the whole, these jobs are not highly valued by society, and are rarely well paid. Although they have an undeniable social function (in particular, to provide a service to the elderly) and could even be described as of public utility, they have not yet gained the recognition they deserve within society. If there isn’t a general awakening to the need to better value these new professions, many of which are still regarded as precarious, society as a whole could be heading for a precipice.

The Precipice

In my view, the precipice is a possible outcome for modernized economies that fail to overcome the challenges inherent in the massive use of artificial intelligence. What we can expect is that a large proportion of the population will find themselves unemployed, with no alternative opium. Today, work is our main opium: it gives us a reason to live, a status, a direction and structures our days. A world without work might seem like a precipice, a chasm that seems hard to bridge. A society without opium (as religions once were) is certainly chaotic, even dangerous. The French Revolution is a good example. In seeking to overthrow the Church and the monarchy, it gave birth to the Terror, the consequences of which are still visible today.

A New Paradigm: The End Of Human Privilege

Until now, humans had priority over the best jobs. When an innovation was introduced, it generally improved the condition of employees and made their tasks more intellectually stimulating. The mechanical industrialization of tasks is something of a counter-example to this, insofar as men have become machines. It’s not certain that they’ve gained from the change, if we compare this with 19th-century peasant life, which at least benefited from fallow periods and therefore rest. Today, it’s more or less the other way around, with machines becoming men. They can do far more in record time than most humans, so we’re witnessing the disappearance of the privilege of seeing human work become more complex over time. The human will become an assistant to the machine rather than a superior in many cases. The machine, once a mere tool, is now becoming the user, and the human is increasingly taking on the role of tool.

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