How the Future of Work is Not “Jobs”: Rudy Karsan at TEDxCalgary (Transcript)

Following is the full transcript of HR expert Rudy Karsan’s TEDx Talk: How the Future of Work is Not “Jobs” at TEDxCalgary conference.

Can you freaking believe it? I’m on a TEDx stage; how cool is that? And can you freaking believe it, we’re actually living in the Golden Age of our species. I am in absolute awe of what we have done.

If you and I were chatting about ten years ago, and having a conversation, and you told me that there would be a car built in a software platform that I could summon with my smartphone and could do zero to 60 in three seconds, travel 300 miles, have no gas, run on electricity, park itself and fuel itself with the hose in the garage? You think I’d believe you? No freaking way. It’s called Tesla.

If you and I were chatting ten years ago and you told me that in this strife-ridden world of ours, with all these people dying, that life expectancy would climb by 50% across the world, and 25% in the Western world, would I believe you? No. United Nations just showed its latest release of data: Six years increase in life expectancy over the last 12, globally, three years in the Western world.

If you told me ten years ago that a lot of cities in this world were getting 15% of their food through vertical farms that use 99% less land and 90% less water? I wouldn’t believe you, but it’s true.

If you told me more than ten years ago, that the United States Supreme Court would guarantee the right of gay marriages? It would be freaking crazy, we talk about the United States! And that the transgender people – I didn’t know what the word “transgender” meant – would be fighting for their own bathrooms? And the European Union was protecting the rights of the Middle East refugees? Then I would say you’re certifiably crazy. We can regale each other with stories like this for the next couple of hours: We are truly living in the Golden Age of our species.

And as we live and breathe through this golden time, we are, as most humans, want to go to the place of risk. And I’d argue that our number one risk is the lack of meaningful work. Some would say it’s food: I’d say no, vertical farming. There’s some who would say it’s water. I’d say no, nanotechnology membranes turn sea water potable. And this is not in the future: it’s currently happening in India with millions of liters of fresh potable water being created on a daily basis.

Some would say energy, I’d say no; solar energy has reached the one per cent tipping point, and it’s accelerating. Solar cells have reduced the cost by 99.7% in the last six years, and it’s only beginning. Some would say it’s global warming, and I say no; because there are already multiple solutions to it, including microbes that can pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and create energy alongside it. It’s stuck in US Congress and bioethical issues because it’s a life form. Or Georgetown University, who’s come up with blocks, carbon blocks that we suck out of the atmosphere and bury deep in.

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Lack of meaningful work, I’d argue, is our number one risk. It is who we are as a people. It’s what makes you and me, it’s our evolution. Meaningful work is a beautiful thing because it is individually defined by each one of us, and what it means for each one of us. This is not a story about anything other than you and me as individuals. We define what we mean by meaningful work. For some of us, it might be an economic engine so we can play and we can grow and learn and procreate; for others it might be a yearning for significance; for others it might be an ability to serve humanity. It is our choice, who we are.

When I was telling you this story, about me selling the company to IBM, that should have been my crowning moment: the day the deal closed. It was the saddest day of my life. It took me months to recover. My 40-year-old friend, lover, wife, best friend finally lost her temper at me. It took two-and-a-half months, and more than half those nights, I fell asleep crying. It was hard: I had lost meaning. And that’s the major risk we have today, simply because jobs are being decimated at an accelerating pace. That’s the noise you hear in the US in the presidential elections today.

Somebody no less than Stephen Hawkins said, “Artificial Intelligence is going to rip the fabric of our society as we know it.” Between artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, some of the stuff you spend today watching: jobs are getting decimated. And they are not coming back. So what’s the solution? Before I get there, let’s describe for a second who we are: We’re mammals, as we’ve learned today. But we’re different from other mammals because we have this notion of intelligence and conscience. We have the ability to dream, and create these mental constructs. These mental constructs is what makes us happy, it makes us who we are. Everything of importance in our life, I’d argue, is a mental construct. Be it faith.

Nation states are simply lines in the sand, or on a map. Faith, religion – I would argue, family is a mental construct. And so the two mental constructs I wish to change and break today are as follows: The first one is, meaningful work has been with us forever and will be with us forever. It’s not jobs. Jobs are simply a subset of work. The word “job” itself is less than 400 years old, and did not come into our lexicon until the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, about 250 years ago. Jobs create money for us.

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