The evolution of labour & where the rewards are heading

Geo dome

There is a clear evolutionary path for the type of labour that humans have done in our time on this planet. The over riding theme is that work is hard. Survival takes effort and the easier we can make survival, the better our lives will be. All of the tools we have invented from spears, to wheels, to spanners to computational devices have made more possible with less. Famed inventor R Buckminster Fuller called this phenomenon ephemeralization. He said that with enough knowledge, we’d be able to consistently do more with less, until we could eventually be able to do everything with nothing. The exponential growth we have seen with technology has to this point proven his idea to be true.

If we look at our labour, every curve jump in technology has changed what we do. It has also changed where the greatest economic value has come from our work.  A basic function of scarcity. The history of labour in short from can be summarised as follows:

Physical Labour: Lifting heavy things. Using our arms, legs and backs.

Intellectual labour: Using our minds and mouths. Organising the factors of production.

Emotional Labour: Art, love, performance, creativity, and the beauty of human irrationality.

While there has always been overlap, it is clear to see where the greatest revenue streams have been. Each step change in technology has removed additional forms of labour scarcity. I believe that emotional labour will have the greatest economic value as we rapidly approach the technology singularity.

While this is an over simplification, if we want to earn more, and or run successful businesses we need to do one of two things:

1. Remove human labour. (The industrial revolution removed large amounts of physical labour. The data industrial complex we are now living in removes intellectual, left brain labour as we outsource this to the microchip. If our startup removes the labour we take the financial upside of the structural shift we create.)

2. Move ourselves up the hierarchy, closer to the emotional level. (That is, the bits of human endeavour which are yet to be replicated, or we don’t want to be replicated by machine.)

While we are on the topic, the real value in emotional labour is the irrational bit. The creative stuff, and all other manner of thoughts and behaviour which we can’t quite understand or justify. This is where the value of tomorrow lies. The over riding thought we should have is this: If what we do for a living can be replaced via automation or technology, then it will be, eventually. The further we are from what technology can replace the lower our income risk. And those are the very things which make us human.

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