The futures studies program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa is one of only three programs in the United States where you can earn an academic degree in futures. It was founded by Professor Jim Dator (emeritus) who taught futures students for about 40 years. One of the stories he would share had to do with his incoming students’ perceptions of the future. On the first day of class he would give new students the assignment of writing “a day in the life” for their own lives at some point in the future, say 20 or 30 years hence. What he found from 40 years of giving this assignment that a great many of them would write about how much worse the world would be and how much greater its challenging. Yet, what is most striking is how many of them would simultaneously write that their personal situations were pretty OK: a job, a house, a spouse, 2.5 kids and car.
The Pew Research Center just released a report on the opinions of Americans regarding the future impact of automation on jobs. In a finding that echoes Dator’s findings from decades of collecting personal predictions, Pew found that a majority of Americans predict that in 50 years machines will do much of the work currently performed by humans. But… they predict that others will lose their jobs to machines, not them.
Once again, Americans believe that the future will indeed be worse, just not for themselves.