The Fissured Workplace: Thoughts-3.19.19–12.31.19

Thinking about the Future of Work in the Present

David Weil, 3.18.19

Many of us over the past few years have participated in panels, conferences, seminars, and seances regarding the “future of work.”  In one flavor of those convenings, the subtext is that AI, robotics, and other digital innovations that will lead to a workplace without workers. In another flavor, discussions focus on a future where everyone will be entrepreneurs, enabled by digital platforms, to innovate and build businesses giving them flexibility creative freedom.

Both flavors miss a more fundamental issue: rather than focusing on the “future of work” we should be thinking about how technologies and other organizational changes have transformed the “present of work.” Rather than robot overlords, we should be concerned with the private and public choices we have made that have led to a workplace of growing inequality and where workers bear more and more of the risks arising from employment.  

In the last month, I have had the opportunity to participate in two discussions that have provided a far more nuanced discussion of these issues. The first was at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics in February, chaired by David Eaves and with Jason Furman of HKS and Mary Gray of the Microsoft Institute.  The second was held at a conference that was part of the culmination of the “Going Digital” of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), held this March.  

Links to videos of both events can be found below. I hope you will find both conversations a different and useful way to think about the important issues surrounding work and technology in the present and the future.


“Robotland: The Future of Labor Policy and Work in an AI World,” a conference held at the Institute of Politics, Harvard Kennedy School, February 28, 2019. View.

“Going Digital,” a conference held at the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, Paris, France, March 12, 2019.