The past decade has seen remarkable advances in digital technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, cloud computing, data analytics and mobile communications. Over the coming decades, these technologies will transform nearly every industry — from agriculture, medicine and manufacturing to sales, finance and transportation — and reshape the nature of work. “Millions of jobs will be eliminated, millions of new jobs will be created and needed, and far more jobs will be transformed,” says Erik Brynjolfsson, who directs the Initiative on the Digital Economy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
But making firm predictions is difficult. “The technology is rushing ahead, which in a way is a good thing, but we have a huge gap in understanding its implications,” Brynjolfsson says. “There’s a huge need, a huge opportunity, to study the changes.” Researchers are beginning to do just that, and the emerging evidence resists simple storylines. Advances in digital technologies are likely to change work in complex and nuanced ways, creating both opportunities and risks for workers.
This article looks at three pressing questions about the future of work in a digital world and how researchers are beginning to answer them.