There was a very intriguing debate this week on Open Source with Christopher Lydon. They titled the show “The End of Work” but the two (very famous) thought leaders they had as the main guests were not in agreement that it was over.
Andrew McAfee, MIT Professor and co-author with Erik Brynjolfsson of the book “The Second Machine Age,” took the position that over time we will create really smart technology that will be able to do all of our work for us. We can spend our time playing sports, sitting in cafes talking philosophy, and otherwise scratching our butts. This is the End of Work.
But Ray Kurzweil, currently chief futurist at Google and author of “The Singularity in Near,” took a much different position. He says that we will indeed automate the jobs that we don’t want to do. But that will free us up to take on meaningful, and intrinsically motivating jobs.
Much of the show talked about how to get to either of these two endpoints and what kinds of turmoil there will be between now and then as the less skilled get left behind and unemployment becomes hard to manage economically and socially. But I am more interested in the difference between the endpoints.
On one hand, there might not be a difference. If the work someone is doing is so profound and meaningful, is it even work? Maybe it is the same thing that McAfee’s someone is doing in the café.
But on the other hand, I think there is a fundamental difference between doing the activity for fun and doing it as part of intrinsically motivating work. Both might have the same tangible goals, but the intangibles can make all the difference. That is what I have learned through my work (and writing my in-process book) in gamification. Intrinsic motivation can be incredibly powerful and even more so when the goal adds value to the world, which is what “work” is supposed to be. The flow state that we reach from the opportunity to apply our skills and abilities to challenging problems can be incredibly powerful. If it is set up right (which is why I am writing the book).
What do you think?