RSA and Orwell Foundation envisage ‘dystopian’ future of work if tech is not controlled

By Ellen Daniel

Economic turmoil following a widespread cyberattack, constant workplace monitoring and rating systems determining social worth. These are just some of the unsettling visions for next 15 years, set-out in a new short story collection compiled by the RSA and Orwell Foundation.

The free collection imagines the impact advances in technology could have on society, is designed to raise public awareness of the bleak future of work we could face with robust workers’ rights over tech.

The stories are each based on a vision for 2035 set out in the RSA’s Four Futures of Work report. Based on “morphological analysis”, the report makes predictions for how current technology trends could develop and impact the world of work in 2035, making four key predictions.

The RSA report forsees that workers will be subject to greater surveillance, with workplaces even having their own rating systems. The prevalence of self-driving cars and 3D printing will mean that products and services will be delivered on demand, but this could cause a rise in unemployment and economic insecurity.

It also predicts the likelihood of an economic crash crash on the scale of 2008 and how a lack of funding could keep the UK in a low-skilled, low-productivity rut.

However, there are some more optimistic predictions. The Empathy Economy envisages a future where automation takes places at a modest scale but is carefully managed in partnership with workers and unions. Disposable income flows into sectors such as education, care and entertainment.

Life in 2035 according to the RSA and Orwell Foundation

After reading the report, the authors imagined what a ‘day in the life’ might be like in 2035.

Scottish author and Orwell Prize winner Darren McGarvey’s story is set in New Glasgow, following a devastating cyberattack.

Delia Jarrett-Macauley explores a future where empathy has become a commodity. In ‘I CLICK SUBMIT’, Preti Taneja explores a story in which the lines between human and AI-augmented Alexa are increasingly blurred.

Asheem Singh, editor of the collection and Director of Economy at the RSA, said:

“The future of work is coming at us – fast. Gig work, automation, AI: all augur massive shifts…They are not statistics or ideologies – but alternative, very real shadow-worlds that lie in wait for the workers of today and tomorrow if we don’t act now. We must ensure the voice of workers are heard, that our rights are buttressed and augmented and that our economic model favours ordinary people once more if we are to realise a less dystopian future.”

Read more: Poor office technology is killing workplace productivity.