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Opinion

We're asking all the wrong questions about the future of jobs

By Vasant Dhar

Vasant Dhar opinion research headshot article

But more research is needed to understand how humans and smarter machines will complement and compete with each other at a micro level before we have the basis for making predictions about the future of work.

Work is not what it used to be. The very concept of work has evolved considerably over the centuries, as newer technologies have become integrated into how we function individually as well as a society.

In engineering, work is defined as the product of force and distance. Early machines amplified force and turbocharged human productivity, providing an early platform for industrialised society. They eliminated physical grunt work and created new kinds of work for humans, such as operating and fixing machines and using their capabilities in new ways. Computers have similarly reduced our informational grunt work, enabling more productive, creative, and rewarding work for humans.

But today’s machines are different in that they are increasingly figuring things out for themselves. They have learned how to learn, a quality that has until now been exclusive to humans. Our ability to perceive the world and integrate unstructured information spontaneously serves as the bedrock of much of human work. With machines now performing this role, often better than us, how valuable will the human - or ‘nonroutine’ - aspects of work be in the future?

Read the full article as published in the World Economic Forum

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Vasant Dhar is a Professor of Information Systems.