Planning for the future of uncertain work

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In a recent, approximately 75-page report, the British non – profit organization The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts (RSA) outlined several scenarios on how frontier technologies such as automation, AI, AVs and more will impact the UK labor market.

The analysis entitled “The Four Futures of Work” was carried out in collaboration with Arup design and consulting firm and was led by the “Future Work Center” The RSA, which focuses on the impact of new technologies on work, is supported by Taylor Wessing, the Friends Provident Foundation, Google’s philanthropic arm, and others.

The report is less of a traditional research paper and more of a qualitative, theoretical, and abstract exploration of how the world may look depending on how certain technological and sociological variables (immigration, political will, etc.) develop. The authors are not trying to estimate growth paths for new technologies, nor are they trying to come to a definitive conclusion as to what the future of work will look like. Instead, the work seeks to identify multiple possible outcomes to help citizens prepare for labor transformations and to derive policy recommendations in each scenario to mitigate externalities.

Research was conducted using “morphological scenario analysis” as opposed to traditional quantitative data – based methodologies. The authors worked with technologists, industry leaders and academic researchers to identify the technological and non – technological uncertainties that will have a critical impact on the future of work before projecting three possible scenarios (minimum impact, moderate impact, and severe impact) on how each will look by 2035. The researchers then selected the four most compelling and sensitive scenarios for how the future of work looks with input from the collaborators of the report.

The report’s value depends entirely on how it will be used by readers. If you are hoping to gage market sizes or report forecasts or are looking for data – based scientific, quantitative research — this should not be read. The report is more useful as a way to understand how and how hypothetical future economic structures can evolve through thought – provoking, fun – yet – probabilistic, and poetic narratives.

Instead of summarizing the four detailed scenarios in the report and all the conclusions discussed in the executive summary or full report, here are a few takeaways and the most interesting ones.

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