Hacking the Digital Future: Work Scenarios for 2030

February 13, 2018

By Paula Klein

A decade ago, few anticipated early-stage autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, platform technologies, cryptocurrencies, and even ‘fake’ news to be the effects of digital technologies and social media in 2018. What’s next?

The MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy (IDE) challenged students and others in the community to Hack Our Digital Future and consider the unforeseen, unintended consequences –positive and negative--of digital technologies 12 years from now. How will shifts in particular industries ripple out to other areas of the economy or society? What current challenges will be solved? What unanticipated challenges will arise, and how should society confront them?

Participants were asked to consider plausible scenarios for the world in 2030 where digital technologies impact productivity, employment, and equality. Self-forming teams came forward to develop projects over four weeks in December and January during MIT's Independent Activities Period. The Future of Work Hackathon was formed with the pluck of these local economists, a heaping portion of digital expertise, and a large dose of creative thinking.

Four groups presented their ideas to three judges on February 1, and cash prizes were awarded. IDE provided articles and guest lectures, but teams were largely self-guided and the research process was informal.

Many participants focused on further advancements in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), automation and robotics, and their impact on work during their five-minute presentations.

The winning team — including Juliana Uribe, of Movilizatorio; Hairuo Sun,  from Stony Brook University; and Diego Fernandez and Banti Gheneti , from MIT— was awarded $2,000. It looked at ways to use blockchain-based platforms to better match employees and work to overcome job turnover and churn at a time when skills are no longer relevant, and high-tech machines are replacing humans. The matching algorithm, smart contract, and app would all be hosted on Ethereum and IPFS open platforms to lower costs, increase interactions, and improve speed and latency. In addition, they proposed ways to integrate the platform with digital identity products.

The second-place team, Adapt2Work, offered four scenarios—where there are good jobs and flexible workers; better jobs and socially responsible firms; a highly automated and entrepreneurial economy; and the “doomsday” case, where  ​over 75 million jobs are lost in a U.S. recession, and there is no-retraining. In each case, they considered how people must adapt to changing work worlds. The team won $1,000.

In third place and winning $500, was a group that examined the interaction among technological, economic, social, and political uncertainties. Among the uncertainty assumptions were: Whether there would be a global oligopoly in data platforms/ecosystems; if distributed ledger technology would be widely adopted by governments; and what would be the state of International cyber-currencies.

In fourth place was a proposal on ways to manage the ripple effects of autonomous vehicles and responses from the educational sector. The team was awarded $250.

Three IDE fellows -- Irving Wladawsky-Berger, Tod Loofbourrow, and Michael Schrage (pictured above with winners) -- evaluated projects based on the narratives’ plausibility; communication and presentation; creativity, and the ability to identify factors and possibilities that are not obvious or widely explored.