2013: A Case for Optimism

US News

It's easy to be pessimistic about the future of jobs in the United States. After all, there's a perfect storm for high unemployment: returning vets from Iraq and Afghanistan, Boomers that can't afford to retire, slowed government hiring, a sluggish economy, increased competition from low-cost countries, job-killing automation of everything from parking lot attendants to customer service reps, plus 11 million illegal immigrants soon to become legal and thus eligible for all jobs.

Yet, odds are, we're in for better times.

For example, many jobs that are being replaced by technology are unpleasant ones, for example, back-breaking farming, repetitive toll-taking, stressful customer service gigs ("How come I lost my internet connection?!"). Those jobs are increasingly being replaced by jobs that are more comfortable, creative, and unlike physically demanding jobs, can be done throughout your life, unlike physical work, where after age 40, you're often washed up.

True, not everyone will be trainable for knowledge work, but innovations in training will be more successful than have past efforts. For example, online dream-team-taught personalized courses taught by world-class instructors using interactive simulations and visualizations will enable everyone to receive training of a quality even privileged trainees don't get today.

And once employed, people will find it ever easier to produce amazing work. For example, it seems like only yesterday when writing a report required a trip to the library, poring over the multi-volume Readers' Guide to Periodical Literature to find the name of articles that might be helpful. Then you had to hope the library had that periodical--and often it didn't. Then, you'd have to Xerox whatever articles and pages from relevant books the library happened to have, trudge back to your office, type it on a typewriter, fix changes using white-out, write arrows when you want to move sections around, and then retype your piece, usually more than once.

Compare that with today. Word-processing and the Internet make writing so much simpler, and you can access far more sources, so the quality is improved. You needn't even be confined to your office. Thanks to your wireless device, you can crank out that report in your comfies at home, at a Starbucks, even on the beach. With upcoming smartphone innovations such as foldable screens and keyboards, it won't be long until you'll truly have your office in your pocket. Long-shot predictions: Within a decade, your phone might include such innovations as a lie detector: monitoring your conversation partner's facial micro-changes to alert you to possible dissembling. It will also include a wireless medical monitor that alerts you and your physician to life-threatening changes in your vitals and blood chemistry. That could save countless lives currently lost to strokes and sudden heart attacks. Those may seem far-fetched, but so would be today's smartphones just a decade or two ago.

And ever more people will have access to the full array of products and services, creating more jobs here in the U.S. X PRIZE Foundation Co-Founder and Chairman Peter Diamandis writes for Forbes that "Even the poorest Americans today (those below the poverty line) have access to phones, toilets, running water, air conditioning and even a car. Go back 150 years and the richest robber barons couldn't have ever hoped for such wealth. Right now, a Maasai Warrior on mobile phone has better mobile communications than President Reagan did 25 years ago; And, if he were on Google, he would have access to more information than President Clinton did just 15 years ago."

"This same Maasai Warrior can access [on a smartphone]: a GPS locator, video teleconferencing hardware and software, an HD video camera, a camera, stereo system, vast library of books, films, games, and music," Diamandis adds. "Exponential progress in artificial intelligence, robotics, infinite computing, ubiquitous broadband networks, digital manufacturing, nano-materials, synthetic biology, to name a few, put us on track to make greater gains in the next two decades than we have had in the previous 200 years."

While there have been retracings, the arc of human history is unquestionably skyward. As in horse racing, it's usually wise to bet on the horse with the best track record. Only a fool would bet against humankind.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.

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