The world is changing at dizzying speed. Blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet-of-things, and 3D printing are disrupting the economy and the labor market. The changes are so epic that some say we are living in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
It has been estimated that 73 million existing jobs will be eliminated by the year 2030 due to automation. At the same time, we are witnessing a worldwide rise of populists who offer reassuring words and economic nostalgia.
Since World War II, the U.S. has increased its manufacturing output with fewer workers thanks to automation. A famous Ball State study estimates that 88 percent of manufacturing job losses have been lost to automation (rather than global competition). Despite the decline of manufacturing jobs, productivity has grown, and millions of new jobs have been created.
Many believe that automation and artificial intelligence will result in more, not fewer, jobs. As futurist entrepreneur Raya Bidshahri wrote: “while emerging technologies will destroy many jobs, they will also create many new ones.”
We tend to share Bidshahri’s belief that automation will create more and better jobs in the long term. But even so, none of us knows the exact shape this new economy will take. As a result, many of us will likely encounter anxiety and painful disruptions. To counter the angst, each of needs a dose of optimism.
Optimism is not blindly hoping for something good to happen. Rather, it is a conscious decision to approach life with intentions of making the most out of its opportunities. We may not be able to control what those opportunities look like, but we can control how we respond to them.
The adaptation to new realities requires resilience. We are living in a knowledge-based economy, and it’s no longer enough to get a college degree and assume your education is complete. Instead, adaptation requires continual learning, updating of existing technical skills, development of new skills, and improving soft skills (such as emotional intelligence). Ongoing learning, fueled by curiosity, also enables us to improve our “user experience” in the workplace. Finding ways to make work less tedious and more enjoyable can give us renewed energy in our career.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that as technological innovation has disrupted the labor market, people have turned to politicians for solace. Candidate Trump capitalized on the frustrations of rust belt workers who felt neglected in the modern economy.
Since the 2016 election, pundits and policy experts have offered competing visions for helping workers. Those policy proposals have ranged from public financial support in the form of universal basic income, to subsidizing wages in hopes of incentivizing people back to work, or the laissez faire approach of growing the economy to create more jobs and ultimately better wages.
Regardless of whether you fear the robot apocalypse or what you believe the government’s proper role is in providing a safety net, each one of us is responsible for his or her own well-being. Even if you are a progressive that believes in a robust welfare state, your personal well-being and prosperity will ultimately come down to your own attitudes, decisions, and actions.
Thriving in the digital economy may come down to either controlling the robots (coding, repair or operation), or being more human than robots through emotional intelligence, customer care, and personalized service. It will be up to each of us to navigate through all the changes.
This article was originally published in Washington Examiner