Money For Nothing – Google and the Future of Work

A couple weeks ago, the Financial Times published an exclusive interview with Google co-founder and CEO Larry Page. The interview is largely centered around Page’s vision of the future, and Google willingness to make big gambles on what are now “fringe” technologies, in the hope that they will radically reshape our future for the better. As part of this discussion, Larry Page discusses his vision for the future of work. Page’s perspective is that artificial intelligence, sooner or later, will eliminate most work, which in his mind is a good thing.

“Rapid improvements in artificial intelligence, for instance, will make computers and robots adept at most jobs. Given the chance to give up work, nine out of 10 people ‘wouldn’t want to be doing what they’re doing today’.”

Page goes on to say that trying to cling to work for work’s sake is not the way to go.

“The idea that everyone should slavishly work so they do something inefficiently so they keep their job – that just doesn’t make any sense to me. That can’t be the right answer.”

The interview is worth reading, as it provides insight into the mind of Page. Whether you agree with him or not, Page and Google  play a major role in determining what you and I see online today, and will likely be a part of what our future with technology will look like.

His views, while inline with what one would expect from a Silicon Valley executive, raise other, more complex questions. What the elimination of work might mean for humanity from a spiritual perspective? Does work have any real value beyond – simply accomplishing a stated objective?

The Book of James speaks to the important role work plays in our spiritual maturation. Chapter 1 opens with:

 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

In this verse, James makes the point that the difficulties we experience enable us to become more spiritually mature, since they test our faith. While the trial is unpleasant, and we wish they would end quickly, they are also something we should give thanks for because they make us better Christians.

At the times, James was speaking to the early Christian Church, which was undergoing persecution from the Roman Empire. For them, the trials James was referring to likely spoke to that condition. Most Christians in the Western world don’t undergo the type of persecution the Early Church experienced, but we do experience trials. For many of us, one of the major sources of trials in our lives is work. Whether occurring on a job, or in the process of trying to complete a difficult personal task, work frequently puts us in trying and stressful circumstances. These conditions often test our faith, and push us to rely on God. We lean on Him to sustain us through whatever we’re going through. The experiences we endure while working are often given context and meaning when later viewed through the lens of Scripture.  The things we experience while working, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can mature us spiritually when we persevere through them.

Given this understanding, how do the words of James sit when compared to Larry Page’s work-free future?

Technology has now advanced to the point where humanity must begin to consider the cost of eliminating work altogether. Larry Page is right in saying that in the near future, artificial intelligence and robotics will advance to the point where it will simply make more sense to use machines to do most work. And while it’s easy for us to sit back and daydream about a Jetson-esqe future where a cadre of robots attends to our every need, the real implications of this fact may be more complex. Losing “work” –  both in terms of employment and general labor – would remove a huge source of the “raw material” Christians need to strengthen our faith and become spiritually mature.

What do you think – are there any spiritual implications for Christians if Larry Page’s vision of a work-free future comes to pass?

Share your thoughts in the comments…

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