Alice, from a new animated short titled The Last Job on Earth, is not like the rest of the us. Of course, she has a robot cat and receives a health examination and medicine from a machine, but what sets her apart from everyone else is her job — she has one. The Last Job on Earth envisions the not-so-unlikely future some three or four decades from now when nearly half of all jobs may be automated, a statistic backed up by researchers Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne in their 2013 paper "The Future of Employment." For Alice, who seems to blissfully find purpose in her employment, the promise of a workless life is far from utopia.
The Guardian, in collaboration with studio The Moth Collective, created the animated short as part of the publication's sustainable business section. Journalist Paul Mason, in accompanying text, says through a combination of a universal basic income and an ever-shrinking work day, the world may be able to hand more and more tasks over to machines running on self-learning artificial intelligence. The inevitability of automation is not something to fear, Mason adds, but he doesn't downplay the radical shift in society and human identity that a jobless society may bring about. It's also naive to think any form of widespread automation will benefit everyone equally; at one point in her commute, Alice pulls the shades up in her self-driving car to avoid looking at a line of hungry food bank recipients.
"The biggest enigma of the post-work society is what happens to the self."
The story of Alice is more Spike Jonze's Her with a dose of Minority Report than it is Bladerunner or iRobot, and it avoids the doomsday predictions of The Matrix or Terminator. In that sense, The Last Job on Earth is a brief but grounded glimpse into what our future may look like when all nearly every occupation has been optimized out of the equation and toiling away for a living turns into doing nothing all the time. "The biggest enigma of the post-work society is what happens to the self," writes Mason, "when it cannot define itself against corporate identity, skill set or seniority."