What happens as machines and artificial intelligence push humans out of the workforce? It’s one of the more important problems of our time — theoretical as it may seem in some sectors today — as technology makes industry after industry more efficient.

One of the most important tech overlords, Google CEO Larry Page, thinks most people want to work, but they’d be happy working less.

Page’s take: We have enough resources to provide for humanity. “The idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true,” Page said, in an interview at a private event put on by the venture capital firm Khosla Ventures that was just released online.

In fact, today humanity does dumb things like destroy the environment, in part because people work when they don’t have to, Page contended.

The answer isn’t to just cut jobs en masse, Page said. People want to feel “needed, wanted and have something productive to do.” But most everyone would like a little more time off. So perhaps one solution would be to split up part-time work between people, as Page said Richard Branson is experimenting with in the U.K.

Page’s co-founder Sergey Brin had a slightly different take. “I do think that a lot of the things that people do have been, over the past century, replaced by machines and will continue to be,” Brin said. But after Page opined about his idea of “slightly less employment,” Brin interjected to say, “I don’t think that in the near term, the need for labor is going away. It gets shifted from one place to another, but people always want more stuff or more entertainment or more creativity or more something.”

Here’s the relevant segment:

Sergey Brin: I do think that a lot of the things that people do have been, over the past century, replaced by machines and will continue to be.

Larry Page: 90 percent of people used to be farmers. So it’s happened before. It’s not surprising.

Vinod Khosla, interviewer and long-time technology investor who tried to buy Google when it first started: The vast majority of employment shifted from farming to only needing about two percent of the U.S. workforce. That happened between 1900 and the year 2000. I see the beginnings of that happening again with the rapid acceleration the next 10, 15, 20 years.

Page: I totally believe we should be living in a time of abundance, like the Peter Diamandis book. If you really think about the things that you need to make yourself happy: housing, security, opportunity for your kids. I mean, anthropologists have identified these things. It’s not that hard for us to provide those things. The amount of resources we need to do that, the amount of work that actually needs to go into that is pretty small. I’m guessing less than 1 percent at the moment. So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people’s needs is just not true. I do think there’s a problem that we don’t recognize that. I think there’s also a social problem that a lot of people aren’t happy if they don’t have anything to do. So we need to give people things to do. You need to feel like you’re needed, wanted and have something productive to do. But I think the mix with that and the industries we actually need and so on are — there’s not a good correspondence. That’s why we’re busy destroying the environment and doing other things maybe we don’t need to be doing. So I’m pretty worried until we figure that out, we’re not going to have a good outcome. One thing, I was just talking to Richard Branson about this. They have a huge problem that they don’t have enough jobs in the U.K. So he’s been trying to get people to hire two part-time people instead of one full-time. So at least, the young people can have a half-time job rather than no job. And it’s a slightly greater cost for employers. I was thinking, the extension of that is you have global unemployment or widespread unemployment. You just reduce work time. Everyone I’ve asked — I’ve asked a lot of people about this. Maybe not you guys, but most people, if I ask them, “Would you like an extra week of vacation?” They raise their hands, 100 percent of the people. “Two weeks [of vacation], or a four-day work week?” Everyone will raise their hand. Most people like working, but they’d also like to have more time with their family or to do their own interests. So that would be one way to deal with the problem, is if you had a coordinated way to just reduce the work week. And then, if you had slightly less employment, you can adjust and people will still have jobs.

Brin: I will quibble a little bit. I don’t think that in the near term, the need for labor is going away. It gets shifted from one place to another, but people always want more stuff or more entertainment or more creativity or more something.




15 comments
Zé

"We have enough resources to provide for humanity"


True, but the problem is that the “robot owners” won’t share the profits with the others. Please see Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty.


The industrial revolution brought farmers to the city only to become slaves AND there was enough resources for everyone to get a decent living. WWI and WW2 were kind of a “reset” on big capital but since the 50’s the inequalities are growing, almost exponentially in the last decade. Again, don’t miss “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”.

Fernando Freitas Alves
Fernando Freitas Alves

 Here at Doingcast we work about 4 hours per day, but it is 4 hours of productive work. When we use our software to analise our clients we realize that each worker is not 100% productive. Actually, it is less than 30%. We see that using a software to monitor productivity we can get an increase in their productivity and 4 hours per day can be good enough and even better than a full workday

BillInVegas
BillInVegas

The future of the workforce will most likely be pitchforks and torches before everyone is relegated to part time.

mrsmith
mrsmith

Great.  Like every great and responsible CEO, that leaves more money for him and less for the lower/working class by paying less and not providing benefits.  F*ck em all.

4t0m1c4
4t0m1c4

So will Page give up his share of the pie to another (or more considering the wealth in question)? No, that would not be in character for the ambitious. Unless of course, we are all paid full wages, but have half the work to do :)

As an IT contractor I would gladly do half a job, but again, charge double, or fill the void with another job. (though there are some days I wish I was a farmer)

Yellow
Yellow

What a steaming pile of crap. Where is the 4 day work week for all workers that was heralded by the robot workforce? Technology has only ever enabled us to work harder and longer. Agriculture took us from sitting under a tree waiting for a lizard to walk past, to working 16 hour days slaving away. AI just means we can work harder.

jo galt
jo galt

2% of the people are farmers today, the other 88% are doing other jobs.  They aren't out of work.  The jobs people do at google didn't exist 30 years ago.  There will be a new category of job 30 years from now.


Point being if robots are making things, people need to have money to buy the things the robots make unless they are suggesting a utopian Star Trek like society.


Angus Matheson
Angus Matheson

I don't think this is the way this works. Robots fully replace the jobs they take. So, the unskilled manual jobs are gone and those people have no jobs. Skilled workers still are needed so they have full employment. On a spreadsheet it may look robot + 2 humans get 2 jobs done so humans can both work 1/2 time. But the truth, is robots + 2 humans will mean 1 out if work unskilled worker and 1 rich skilled worker. Now that Foxconn is putting robots in its favtories are they letting their workers go home with full pay earlier, or are they hiring fewer workers? The future is robots, but we need to understand how they will change the world and how we can help those displaced workers. I'm not a Luddite dreaming if broken robot cogs, but I do feel for the manual workers if the next generation. Outsourced right at home by robots.

PC543
PC543

Another fine example of the utter disconnect between the realities of the obscenely wealthy and the masses of ordinary people.  Oh, yea, why don't people just work part time, great idea.  That's nearly as arrogant as Hillary Clinton seriously portraying herself as teetering on the brink of poverty after Bill left the White House. 

The masses of Americans work so much... just to survive.  Maybe, just maybe, we could all work part time if Corporate America paid wages that kept up with the cost of loving.  Maybe, just maybe, we could all work less if corporations who make ridiculous profits... ahem... like Google, didn't shift their mountains of money overseas to avoid paying their fair share of taxes... and shifting that burden onto the people.

I would love for the CEO's of corporate America to try to live on the average American salary of about $45,000 for a year. 


History is full of examples of what happens when the disconnect between the affluent class and the masses gets to these levels.  It's never pretty. 

Zé

@Yellow  Very good until the agriculture sentence. Here I must agree with BillInVegas :)

schtoogie
schtoogie

@PC543  You're kind of proving his point, though: Americans work far too hard for inadequate payoff. So why not leverage the very technologies responsible for this displacement of jobs to provide for the everyday person's basic needs? If applied correctly, we could have housing, food, sanitation, and drinking water services for every single person in a technologically sophisticated city for little more than the cost of implementation. Robots don't need breaks, vacations, lunches, sleep, or even lights, and they work 24/7 including holidays. They work for pure subsistence, too: energy and materials. And if you don't give them the materials, they'll perform their functions anyway.


If we applied our technology humanely and responsibly, we could all live better than Bill Gates.

BasicIncome
BasicIncome

@PC543 I agree. Most people can't afford to work part-time unless the government provides them with a Basic Income. 


"The Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) is a government ensured guarantee that no one's income will fall below the level necessary to meet their most basic needs for any reason."


This new economic organization has been advocated by 5 Nobel Prize Winners in Economics.


The following video sums it up:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3HopWU3YII

Yellow
Yellow

@schtoogie Why not leverage the technologies to provide needs? Who will pay to have their needs met? How many hours will they work in the sewers of the eco-plastic-bubble-city to afford that robot looking after their kids?

GlobalPos
GlobalPos

@schtoogie @PC543 First, we have to change the structure of how economics works.  Why not starting decreasing houses price? Why not closing government agencies first?

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