Conceiving a writing project

I am working on an idea of a book I want to write.

This was in my mind for a while, though I conceived this differently. Initially this was meant to be a joint project, more as a self-development book for aspiring students. After the momentum for the same fizzled out, I had to re-concieve, not for the original commercial purpose but more as a personal meditation on what kind of professionals we need in the future.

In essence, therefore, this is a new project. I don't want to write about 'employability' any more: It's not about advising students how to metamorphose into what employers might want. I have flipped the perspective in my mind: It is more about what kind of professionals we need to shape our future. In a way, I want to write a critique of the professions in their twilight, as the combined assault on the idea of expertise and dissipation of employer-employee social contract are undermining what it meant to be a professional.

I did some work when I was still intending to write with a collaborator. That was a general outline of what was needed, mainly the personal attributes for success and how to develop them. This time around, though, the conversation wouldn't start with the individual and the idea that it's all about picking up the right skills. Rather, the focus will be on strategic capabilities of the individuals that we need to lead our companies,local communities and societies in the next 25 years. I realised I can't possibly write a self-help book after carefully avoiding them always. It is better to try and write something which I can also read.

So, is this going to be a book about automation and disappearing jobs? The original project was much about that: To drive the fear of God in the colleges that they would be failing their students if they don't pay enough attention to the changing workplaces. But, deep down in my heart, I am skeptical about the claims made by Silicon Valley gurus and their imitators from around the world. While there will certainly be a significant degree of job displacement, replacing human workers in high skill, high empathy jobs is still beyond the capability of the current technology. Perhaps we are close to breakthroughs that will sustain Moore's Law or Quantum computing will save the day, but this progress assumes the continuation of a level of taxpayer funded subsidy (or, toleration of tax evasion) to big tech and their acolytes and uninformed policy making that have been the norm so far. There is a backlash coming in the form of various populist leaders and the party may not continue for long.

But it is also citizen choice that may shape technology development. Not enough of this happens today: AI is still not an election issue! It will be. Donald Trump made outsourcing an election winning issue, so why not? I know it's easy to do us and them with China and not that evocative when one is bashing up a computer, but for a generation growing up with computers, it could be. Once the debate happens, we would have more considered path to development of AI, and that's a good thing. This is exactly what my research - and my meditations - would focus upon.

The question I am trying to ask is what would make a good citizen in a digital society. This is broader than my attempt to define what makes a good digital economy worker, because, to be honest, the fate of most people in a digital society is to become masters of themselves (though living a precarious life) rather than becoming a worker. While avoidance of precarity is a central concern for me, I am, at the same time, more concerned about policy-making regarding technology and work, and I want this to be reflected in what I write.

My underlying assumption is that we need a new set of basic skills (just as 3Rs were for an earlier generation) to shape the digital societies that we are going to live in. I want to write about this as I recalibrate most of my day to day work to this field, connecting with other individuals who are already working on this space. My plan for setting up an Institute for Internet Society is still very real and I am starting to pursue this with more urgency. This writing will be the blueprint for the general approach such an institute should be based on.


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