A noteworthy share of these respondents focused on the enormous systemic and structural realities that confront those trying to plan for the future of work and workers. Many of the least hopeful in this expert canvassing look into the future and see a world where most of the work is done by robots and automated processes, as humans are replaced by algorithm-driven work solutions. Some of these people dismiss the idea that any kind of training ecosystem is likely to matter in a world where they believe fewer and fewer people will work.

With automation of most tasks, even creative white-collar jobs, the unemployment situation will make education irrelevant. Train for what?Anonymous software architect

A strong summary of this point of view was spelled out by an anonymous programmer and data analyst, who commented:

“The combination of nanotechnology and AI will actually reduce the number and type of jobs (as we currently understand the term). I foresee significant economic, social, cultural turmoil over the coming 10 to 20 years, with millions of people thrown out of work – with little to no ‘official’ jobs available for them.

“Instead, the notions of a base living wage will continue to churn as a topic until eventually implemented. Automated vehicles yield the elimination of school bus drivers, truck drivers, taxi cab drivers, the purchase of cars themselves (as opposed to Uber-style access and ‘pay for time used’). This, in turn, impacts police forces (no speeding or parking tickets) as their revenue streams diminish, fewer ER doctors and nurses (as the number of accidents decline), massive change in the auto insurance companies and mechanisms. 3-D printing of structures (houses, apartments, boats, cars, etc.) yields massive layoffs in the construction and manufacturing industries. 3-D printing itself dramatically reduces the need for factories in China, Korea, etc., which in turn reduces the need for freighters plying the oceans (and the ones that are left will be autonomous with little to no crew). Nano-drones and robotic support for farming will dramatically modify (reduce) the number of people employed in the agriculture sector. The list goes on and on.

“So 60 to 80 million Americans alone will be thrown out of work in the next two decades. There is nothing the vast majority of these people can be trained on that will replace the income/work they do today. This just scratches the surface on the types of massive change coming.”

There will be many millions more people and possibly millions fewer jobs globally in the future

Automated production of goods and services is seen as good business. Human workers are often less efficient; they are quirky and costly; and they can’t work 24/7/365. In order to be competitive and survive, decision-makers in government and those who run for-profit and nonprofit enterprises turn to automated solutions.

For a long time, science fiction presented us with visions of a world where machines did all the work, and people enjoyed leisure. … These days, a more dystopian reality is emerging.Miles Fidelman

An anonymous software architect wrote, “With automation of most tasks, even creative white-collar jobs, the unemployment situation will make education irrelevant. Train for what?”

Miles Fidelman, systems architect and policy analyst at the Protocol Technologies Group, observed, “The trend is pretty clear. We will need less ‘workers’ in the future. For a long time, science fiction presented us with visions of a world where machines did all the work, and people enjoyed leisure, artistic pursuits, etc. These days, a more dystopian reality is emerging – where a few party, a few more do a lot of work, and growing numbers search for work. We’re going to need a fundamental reshaping of our economy, not training people for jobs that are simply not going to be there.”

George McKee, a retiree, warned, “No amount of training or education will qualify untalented workers for the engineering and programming jobs that will remain after robotics and AI have automated most material production. Even in creative fields, the tournament properties of stardom will make the ‘starving artist’ the norm rather than the exception. The wealthy will continue to disdain the mass-market consumer and work to ensure that the redistribution of income that the lower and formerly middle classes require will not occur.”

Shawn Otto, organizational executive, speaker and writer with ScienceDebate.org, commented, “We will see the emergence of new training programs, particularly an increase in virtual reality gaming-based training, and especially in coding. But this will be tempered by the emergence of AI/robotics moving into the knowledge sector, which has the potential to lead to the wholesale elimination of professional-class, non-managerial white-collar jobs. At the same time, robotics will move aggressively into sensor-based, world-navigation jobs like transportation – including taxis and trucking – and into other similar jobs, making the vision of what jobs there will be – or rather what form they will take – less certain.”

Bart Knijnenburg, assistant professor in human-centered computing at Clemson University, predicted, “Companies will continue to require degrees for workers in regular 9-to-5 jobs. Such jobs will become a luxury. A lot of people will work in the gig economy with little or no official training. I imagine 3-D printer operators running small-batch, highly specialized production lines. Service jobs will also become less well regulated, opening them to self-taught workers, but also making them into gig-like jobs.”

Rick Dudley, a respondent who did not share additional identifying details, replied, “Automation will cause a huge net loss in jobs. Training can’t offset that. I’m a strong proponent of Universal Basic Income. What are the most important skills needed to succeed in the workforce of the future? I don’t think the skills will be fundamentally different than they are now. But the shift in the West will continue to more specialized services, and the reality is that, eventually, we just hit [the] limit of average ability and huge percentages of people become effectively unemployable.”

An anonymous engineering student wrote, “Automation will replace entry-level jobs without creating new ones. New job training will be irrelevant, as the transition from labor to automation will be an exponentially accelerated one. The solution will be democratic socialism to redistribute money, as no one will have the buying power to purchase goods as [there] will not be enough jobs. This democratic socialist transition will lead us to the post-capitalism, post-scarcity society.”

“It will be impossible to maintain post-industrial levels of employment after the artificial intelligence revolution [is] already underway,” predicted another anonymous respondent. “Worst-case estimates predict 50% unemployment globally sometime in this century. This is not a problem of education – indeed, it is easier than ever before for someone to self-educate – rather, it is an inevitable stage in human civilization that must be managed by vastly increasing state-funded welfare (for example, a Universal Basic Income).”

An anonymous respondent observed, “Robotics and other technologies have been making strides and will continue to make strides in performing jobs traditionally done by humans (self-driving cars = transportation jobs). Yes, educational and training programs will become available, but that will become a short-lived reality at most, as artificial technology will become easier and more efficient to train.”

Dave Burstein, editor at Fast Netnews, responded, “Millions more will be trained, a ‘large number.’ Unfortunately, a much larger number will be displaced. Many, including older workers, will pay heavy prices.”

Additional anonymous respondents said:

  • “Anything that can be taught in a ‘training program’ can be taught to and done by AI much more cheaply. … The employment problem of the future won’t be giving people relevant skills for available jobs, it’s that there won’t be nearly as many jobs for humans.”
  • “The future will be more automated than folks believe, and jobs will become a curious relic of history.”
  • “Expect massive disruption due to the automation of labor. It will come so suddenly that a large number of people won’t even be able to afford internet access.”

Some participants in this canvassing speculated about the ways in which the lack of jobs for millions of human workers will alter people’s education and training needs.

David Krieger, director of the Institute for Communication & Leadership IKF, wrote, “Labor is a creature of the industrial age and will disappear with automation of production in all areas. Humans will no longer be divided into capitalists and workers, but will need to find a new self-definition based on creativity and meaning instead of labor and management. This will transform the purpose, position and forms of education. OER (Open Educational Resources), PLE (personal learning environments), learning analytics, etc., point in this direction. Data-driven personalization of services will make economies of scale irrelevant. Credentials from institutions will no longer be needed to guarantee knowledge and skills.”

Capitalism itself is in real trouble

The global business leaders of the highest-performing companies of the digital age run lean operations that require few employees. Apple, Alphabet (Google and its subsidiaries’ parent company), Facebook and other 21st‑century tech business behemoths earn hundreds of billions running fairly autonomous technology operations with such small staffs that they are regularly mentioned in any discussion about a future with fewer jobs.

Will people be employed in the future? Yes. Will globalization and AI undermine the ability of workers in developed countries to acquire jobs that provide the same quality of life and security as their parents? Also yes.Karl Grindal

At a time when the median income in America is not advancing, the competitive instincts of those in leadership positions are seen by some of these experts as a threat to the general public’s overall economic, political and social welfare. A share of participants in this study predict that human employment could diminish rapidly as efficiencies offered by emerging technologies cause these leaders to automate nearly everything in order to optimize outcomes.

An anonymous professor at a U.S. university wrote, “Trained workers are becoming obsolete; the goal of late-stage techno-capitalism is to eliminate them entirely in favor of automation. Since this process is self-defeating and unsustainable, large-scale production economies will eventually collapse. Future economies will be much smaller-scale, therefore workers will train on site. Guilds and apprenticeships will return.”

Stewart Dickson, a digital sculpture pioneer, wrote, “The idea of work needs to fundamentally change. We need to convert from the Kapitalist Pyramid to the post-scarcity, post-industrial society that we are fact living in. Basic Income: convert from wage slavery to Buckminster-Fullerian ‘Livingry.’ It requires a global revolution now to do this. It is going to require generations for it to come about. 3-D printing is failing because of the failure to recognize that technology is only a tool. Creativity is what ultimately drives an economy. But creativity does not follow a business plan. Creativity is a luxury.”

An anonymous respondent pointed out that the world’s most successful businesses with the largest profits today employ very few people, and commented, “Tech and finance can generate lots of value, but are unlikely to generate mass employment. These are the economic drivers of the future, but not necessarily the employment drivers. Given the ability of tech to displace large numbers of workers, it remains unclear what the employment drivers of the future will be.”

An anonymous respondent argued, “The problem isn’t education. The problem is the 1% is not willing to pay a living wage.”

Karl Grindal, executive director at Cyber Conflict Studies Association, replied, “Will people be employed in the future? Yes. Will globalization and AI undermine the ability of workers in developed countries to acquire jobs that provide the same quality of life and security as their parents? Also yes.”

Mike Warot, a machinist at Allied Gear, replied, “We’re going to have to end up with a Basic Income, or revolution.”

Most of the people who were critical of capitalism preferred to remain anonymous in their comments. Following are a few additional points made by such respondents.

  • “[Training will not work to prepare for the future] until we convince enough people that a neoliberal form of capitalism is against the overall goals of a healthy society. And I don’t see that happening.”
  • “People with the capital to [advance education and training] would rather invest in robots/AI whose labor they own, instead of sharing profits with human workers.”
  • “Training can be cheaper with automation. But the automation will ultimately be used to perform the jobs they’re teaching. They don’t want large numbers of workers. They want large numbers of consumers.”
  • “If you’re not already an Eloi you’re probably doomed to be a Morlock.”
  • “Following the establishment of the precariat will be the ‘unnecessariat.’ Most jobs of the future will be a) automated, b) outsourced, and c) won’t require special training.”