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In collaboration with Retro Report

Future of Work

If automation continues at its current pace, 400 million workers around the globe will be displaced by 2030. In spite of the vast economic effects these changes will bring, will we seize the opportunity to reconceive the very meaning of work?

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Retro ReportFuture of Work

Where We Thought We’d Be

We can’t predict the future—but these experts thought they could. Here are some ideas they got right—or marvelously wrong.

  • 1964 (for 2014)

    (Very) remote work

    Science writer and futurist Arthur C. Clarke predicted “a world which we can be in instant contact with each other, wherever we may be, where we can contact our friends anywhere on Earth, even if we don’t know their actual, physical location.” “It will be possible,” Clarke said in a public speech, “for a man to conduct his business from Tahiti or Bali just as well as he could from London.”

  • 1966 (for 2000)

    Extreme leisure 

    "By 2000, the machines will be producing so much that everyone in the US will, in effect, be independently wealthy,” predicted the editors at Time magazine. With so much money floating around, the greatest challenge would be “how to use leisure meaningfully.” (Likewise, futurist Herman Kahn worried about the development of “a pleasure-oriented society full of 'wholesome degeneracy.'")

  • 1982

    The pink slip

    In the Omni Future Almanac, edited by Robert Weil, writers listed many of the positions they believed would be taken by robotic workers, including dry cleaners, farm workers, bank clerks, and store cashiers.

  • 1982 (for 2000)
    A worker arrives at his office in the Canary Wharf business district in London February 26, 2014.

    Intellectual unions

    When the New York Times asked futurists to imagine the new millennium, the head of the Institute for the Future, Roy Amara, forecast that the greatest changes to come in the workplace would be cultural. “Work will be more self-managed by workers,” he said. “The workplace will be more cooperative than adversarial. Workers will want intellectual and psychological fulfillment, not just financial reward.”

  • 2003
    clocks in india

    Always on the clock

    Accenture released a chilling concept video for a new kind of office where employees were all being tracked, all the time. “In today's office environment,” the voice-over says, “finding the right information usually means finding the right person at the right time.” To make that happen, employees wear a geo-located “active badge”: “the office contains a network of infrared sensors that can locate the badges—and hence, the people—throughout the environment.”