“Companies,” says web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, “are increasingly going to be run by computers. And computers are getting smarter and we are not.” The only solution, he argues, is for people to embrace new technology, and accept that some jobs will simply disappear.
So what does that mean for book-keepers and accountants and a host of jobs, increasingly the white collar ones too, that are threatened by the growth of new technology? What was once a Luddite argument about loss of jobs is being made by an increasing number of sophisticated economists. “It’s been running forever and yes there’s a problem that say, people who run printers that print brochures, for instance, you don’t need that any more,” says Sir Tim, talking about the inexorable move of advertising to online. “Some things are going to completely disappear and obviously more boring jobs go first.
Unfortunately, it often sounds as though the best ideas are those with the least human involvement: “Don’t think about me using my data, think about a really smart really powerful computer using my data with some interesting apps,” says Sir Tim. “My machine talking to a hospital, saying ‘I don’t know if you know but he’s not doing so much exercise - is that ok?’”
It’s an idyllic picture, even if critics will say walks should be about looking at the scenery not the GPS: a world where people are fitter and less troubled by menial jobs, thanks to the web’s total integration with daily life. “But there’s another movement that’s interesting,” adds Sir Tim. “If you look around the UK it’s largely farmland – some countries have been levelled for large fields, but in other parts of the world people are hanging on to small farms, because they like to have a world in which crops are grown locally by hand, again around Massachusetts for instance. You might start to think of farming more like performance art, where you know the person who has done it.”