All right then. Assuming you can have literally anything you ask for, that someone else will do all the associated remodeling, cleanup, installation, and furniture moves at your direction, what do you actually want?
This is where we are right now at my work, imagining what we want work to look like. We’re stuck in the imagination stage because the majority of us still don’t know when we can get our vaccines. We’re on mandatory work-from-home.
Want to know something funny? I designed a survey and built in a “no preference” response and about 10% of the respondents chose that.
No preference, really?
You have no preference whether you commute or not, or whether you have your own office or not?
I believe there are people like this in the world, people whose least favorite thing is to have to choose something. I am not one of these people. Maybe what we need is a benevolent AI that keeps track of decisionless people and randomly assigns them to things.
Further, I think almost everyone is so hung up on all the annoyances and things that we dislike about working that it hasn’t occurred to us to wonder what we actually DO want.
Personally I like variety. I like to be able to get up and work in different places, maybe outside, maybe on the bus, maybe in a cafe, maybe even on the library stairs or something. All of that has been extracted from my life by the pandemic. The best I can do is to occasionally work on my blog from an inflatable chair at the park.
Right now I am sitting at my desk, which I normally reserve for work-work, because I dropped my phone on my iPad and it’s in the shop.
Note, shouldn’t all Apple products be immune to each other? Why is it possible for me to do $330 worth of damage to one of my products with another one of my products?? (At least I didn’t shatter both of them at once…)
I’m willing to bet that a lot of people are leaning toward working from home because we have become accustomed to the convenience of doing household chores while in meetings.
(I do a lot of mine either while I’m waiting for my computer to warm up or while I’m in the process of making my lunch).
Okay, let’s think bigger. What if our homes are modernized as quickly as the office? What if algorithms and robots are reliably taking care of more of our bandwidth and we’re actually able to do the fun, creative, intellectually stimulating stuff ourselves?
What does THAT look like?
I’m still waiting for an AI that can work as a companion, listening genially as I ramble on and on, ideating and shifting between completely unrelated projects, circling back, changing the subject with no warning, the way that my human friends have come to expect and
OH, that reminds me
By the time an AI can keep up with a creative, non-neurotypical person such as myself, it will be able to do virtually anything.
The only way that will ever happen is if we keep dreaming bigger, learning to hand off more and more mental tasks, and thus incrementally training this concept of an artificial brain.
From experience working with the chronically disorganized, I can say that problems at work are similar to problems at home, which is, the routine parts are too boring to get done, but the non-routine parts are often too confusing.
Who do I call to handle this? How do I describe it? What actually needs to get done? How much of it am I expected to do myself and how much can I delegate to someone else? What order do the steps go?
I used to have a social services job in which, every day, I would get calls from people looking for a completely different department or a completely different branch of government. If I didn’t help them myself they would just call me again.
Almost nobody on Earth will actually Google something on their own, even if it was faster and easier and came with cute photos. They’d rather Talk to a Real Person (TM) so they don’t have to engage System 2 thinking.
This is why I am torn between thinking that AI will never happen, or that AI will eventually save us all.
What if AI convincingly sounded like that proverbial “real person”? An endlessly patient and useful person, who knew every answer, never asked you to repeat yourself, and read your mood perfectly? What if that “real person” was always available and you never had to wait on hold?
I think it’s possible.
Because, even though many of us carry incredibly powerful computers with vast search engines in our pockets round the clock, we aren’t using them to further our knowledge or understanding of the world. Instead we use them to spy on each other, argue with each other, and look at video clips. If we genuinely had this helpful and eager “customer service rep” waiting there to do more of the steps for us, maybe we would take advantage of that opportunity?
Or is it more like, the more things are automated for us, the more things will feel like “work” even though they are less work than what came before?
I have a desk job, but I know a lot of people who don’t. They are gradually adopting more and more automation, from power tools to GPS to digital levels, etc. Who doesn’t enjoy using a pressure washer?
That’s what I’m personally looking for, a work experience that feels more like playing with a toy or having a fascinating conversation. Does that feel possible?
Or do we really all just want to go back to commuting, honking at each other, rushing to stand in line to buy coffee in disposable cups, scrolling through hundreds of emails, and tapping our pens in endless meetings? Do we miss normality so much that it actually looks like it was ever a good idea?
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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