Futurists Create 3 Plausible Futures of Work in 2050

From despair to abundance - The three alternative scenarios that define our future of work.

October 18, 2019, Jerome C. Glenn, Max Stucki

By 2050, employment will have been radically altered. The technological advances will change the nature of work, and also by so doing the very social structures of societies. The question is not so much about when will this happen or how radical will the changes be, but how well can we anticipate both the incremental and more rapid consequences of this transformation.

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We already are aware of many factors that will impact our future. By examining them, and their effects, we can create plausible scenarios which describe the world of the future, as is done in the Millennium Project’s extensive and highly detailed “Work/Technology 2050” scenarios.

These scenarios represent the best understanding the Millennium Project, an international think tank comprised of the leading futurists, has at the moment. Over 500 experts from 60 countries were engaged in constructing and assessing them.

The scenarios not only help us to prepare for what is to come but also enhance our understanding of how to shape the future with our actions of today. Next, the scenarios are described briefly.


Three scenarios for the future of work


In the scenario “It’s Complicated - A Mixed Bag,” the world enjoys the benefits of technological advances, but the governments have been unable to fully anticipate the changes, leading to moderate problems with both employment and welfare. However, new jobs are also being created, thanks to the possibilities of the latest technologies.

The second scenario, “Political/Economic Turmoil - Future Despair,“ presents a world in which the technological and cultural changes have created a world of hopelessness, largely thanks to the inability of those in positions of power to foresee any of the consequences of the changes taking place. Unemployment has become widespread, and social tensions have soared to unprecedented levels. Corporate power has risen to new heights, while the majority of the global population has little hope of a better tomorrow.

The third scenario, “If Humans Were Free - The Self-Actualizing Economy,“ pictures a future where the decision-makers have wisely anticipated the technological changes. This is a world of self-actualization, where machines do most of the work, and humans are freed to pursue higher goals with more profound meaning and substance.


Anticipating the coming changes


Many drivers of change are known, some remain unknown, and the interactions and collisions of them cannot be precisely predicted. However, we can already see that the world will change in certain ways, and those ways are the same in each scenario.

First of all, more and more jobs will be taken over by the machines powered by AI. The governments that can anticipate this change will be in a position to profit from this transformation and to create a better future for their citizens.

Second, the transformation of employment will lead to societal and cultural changes, as well. Whether these changes are positive or negative, depends significantly on the willingness to attempt to foresee their consequences and act accordingly.

None of this is new. The change factors have been discussed for years now. However, how we face them makes a difference. As the future unfolds with all its possibilities, it is the readiness to capitalize on those possibilities that counts. And the only way to build up that readiness is by anticipating the coming changes. Are you doing it already?


Jerome C. Glenn is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Millennium Project. He has over 40 years of Futures Research experience working for governments, international organizations, and private industry.

Max Stucki is a foresight analyst at Futures Platform. His work concentrates on trend identification and analysis, as well as helping the customers to improve their foresight capabilities. 

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