April 3, 2016 at 7:25 pm #5832
In chapter 8, Prof. Bess discusses the potential fragmentation of society based upon the types of enhancements people choose for themselves. It is noted in the chapter that people may begin changing with whom and how they identify themselves based upon their enhancements. Today, especially in America, a major part of people’s identity comes from their careers and the work that they do. These enhancements may lead to professional specialization, which could become even more extreme than it is today. For instance, parents will endow their children with traits specific for great athletes, lawyers, or doctors and this could result in, “a cluster of extremely homogenous cohorts defined by their professional niche.” In addition, it could become increasingly difficult to change professions or pursue a career in a field in which one is not genetically enhanced or optimized to be superior in.
As a result of the habits and trends discussed above, I believe it is of the utmost importance that Americans begin changing how they derive value and meaning in their lives. I have noticed in my own experience pursuing the competitive field of investment banking that it is expected students begin crafting their life story to fit the mold and be prepared to intern in the field by the end of their sophomore year in college. The most realistic way to have a job in investment banking is to secure an internship in the fall of one’s junior year and this will hopefully lead to a full time job. Just ten years ago one could have expected to find a job in investment banking during their senior year of college. Enhancements to character traits will make processes like these even more competitive, while advancements in technology could significantly reduce the number of jobs available, therefore people will have no choice but to change their focus toward other aspects of life, rather than careers, to achieve happiness. I believe people will have to find beauty and happiness from the world around them and from their intrinsic value rather than the work they do. The sooner this is achieved by the masses the better off America will be dealing with these drastic enhancements and changes.
April 9, 2016 at 10:23 pm #5841
I think it could be argued that even in the relatively un-enhanced world (compared to our likely future) we are living in today, many people do not necessarily “find beauty and happiness” in the work they do and already seek other ways to achieve intrinsic value. Therefore, I am not sure that achieving this goal for “the masses” will prepare us more for the drastic enhancements and changes that are coming.
That being said, I find your example of the career path of investment banking to be helpful in viewing what a career path may look like with these increasing professional specialization enhancements. This trend of needing to decide and get involved in a career at an earlier time (Sophomore/Junior year rather than Senior year) may continue to earlier and earlier ages. It will be interesting to see if our education system changes to reflect such a trend as well. Perhaps instead of applying to the School of Arts and Sciences, future Vanderbilt students will need to apply to the School of Investment Banking, therefore choosing their career before graduating from high school. If parents do in fact start altering their children to be more likely to choose a career path, this choice may come even earlier as zealous parents send their mathematically inclined children to banking prep high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools. Such a change in our society would probably lead to the type of fragmentation that Bess fears, as in putting you done the road to banking at the age of 5 parents will severely limit the types of people you will interact with in your life.
If such a scenario does play out, I fear profession will become an increasing part of an individual’s identity rather than a decreasing portion. This again could have serious implications for those that are not able to compete and find a job in a future that may see less of them, as that large part of their identity would be absent.
April 12, 2016 at 7:48 pm #5850
I think it is interesting to contrast how genetics and epigenetic enhancements might force people to commit to career paths much earlier with how increased healthspans will allow people to pursue many diverse careers, which would seem to contradict each other. Bess briefly mentions the latter point at the end of chapter 14 of Our Grandchildren Redesigned, as part of a larger discussion of the effects of increased healthspans. Living to 160 years of age (as Bess hypothesizes) would prompt people to go through different career phases, which would likely differ vastly from each other: Bess gives the examples of transitioning from lawyer to biologist and farmer to airline pilot. Currently, each of these careers require multiple years of training and promotion, and it is nearly impossible to achieve proficiency in more than one of these paths within the length of a normal, unenhanced human lifespan. However, a dramatically increased healthspan would give people the time necessary to become experts in vastly different fields. Perhaps the transition period from one career to another would need to involve some sort of epigenetic enhancement to bring you up to par with others already working in that industry? If we do indeed achieve healthspans of 160 years, I don’t think that people would be satisfied with having to choose a career very early in life (along with the necessary genetic enhancements that accompany it) and then keep pursuing it without change for nearly a century and a half.
April 13, 2016 at 7:19 pm #5854
On the other hand, ten thousand years ago everyone’s job was hunter-gatherer, and just three hundred years ago nearly everyone was a farmer. However, as the demand for those jobs began to shrink, people simply switched to other jobs, and now only 2% of the United States works as farmers. As long as a constant rate of production occurs: namely, as long as there is sufficient food, clothing, and so on, for everyone who exists, then the people who own those means will tend to spend their money on other things. Essentially, it seems to me that it is more likely that people will simply switch to jobs producing luxuries and so on, and even though there might be a period of disorder in the middle, eventually the job market would shift, just as it did in the Industrial Revolution.
Furthermore, the idea of requiring people to select careers earlier is already done in a number of other countries, where technical school is so common and people often make career decisions in high school. Frankly, it seems to me that by the point where we already have the ability to affect how well people do in careers, those careers are likely to already be significantly changed by the time those children grow up, which should serve as some deterrent to selecting for one profession specifically.
April 13, 2016 at 7:37 pm #5855
While I certainly understand the impact that epigenetic and genetic enhancements can have on career paths, potentially forcing individuals to select a career path at an early age, I believe that these enhancements will not affect labor markets for decades to come. On the other hand, automation has the potential to displace labor in the very near future. Already, many investment management firms such as Betterment and Wealthfront have opted to use “robo-advisors” for portfolio allocation instead of human financial advisors. In many developed nations, capital plays a much greater role than labor in industrial production, and factories are lined with robots assembling consumer goods from cars to refrigerators. It is only a matter of time until less developed countries, which still largely depend on labor for production due to the relatively high cost of capital, opt to automate their manufacturing facilities. As mentioned in a previous post, only 300 years ago the majority of the labor force participated in agriculture. The Industrial Revolution stemmed from both greater labor productivity in the agriculture sector and mechanization, which had a two-fold effect. More laborers could work in the manufacturing sector and the productivity of this labor was much higher. However, people who had worked in the agricultural sector that were no longer needed were able to find jobs in manufacturing. My concern is that automation will eliminate those jobs that labor would transition into, leaving a majority of the population unemployed.
April 13, 2016 at 9:27 pm #5860
I think an interesting intersection to examine is the future of globalization and the rise of automation as a means of production. As JWV pointed out, many heavy industries are shifting towards robotic workers on assembly lines in favor of traditional human workers. These robotic capabilities are capital intensive and but require far fewer humans to operate and can work much longer hours without rest. As the global economy has developed in the last 60 years, billions of humans have been lifted out of poverty. The opening of international borders to the flow of goods and services has seen transformation of many of the poorest countries at the beginning of the 20th century, especially in places like Southeast Asia. As automation becomes more and more common in the production process, I believe we will see a race between the exportation of production to low income countries and the rise of automation. If automation capabilities become cheaper and more accessible, I fear that the economic progress we have seen over the last several decades could be reversed. Mass unemployment in less-developed countries could force billions of workers back in abject poverty. As more and more capital is acquired in the owners of production, it is not hard to picture riots and upheaval that extreme economic inequality could foster, especially in those countries most susceptible to worker replacement.
April 13, 2016 at 11:49 pm #5867
After thinking about this thread a bit more I have realized that there is a consistent tone of technological determinism persistent throughout the posts in this thread but also throughout most of the other threads. At the beginning of the semester we discussed how technologically deterministic arguments are not sound historical arguments. However, it seems to me as if deterministic arguments have trickled back into these posts and even into Our Grandchildren Redesigned. What sparked this thought was the original poster’s summary of Bess’s argument that bioenhancements could lead to the fragmentation of our species. I have an issue with this argument as it strikes me as a textbook technologically deterministic argument. Am I incorrect in interpreting it as such? The argument states that a technology would have a direct and perhaps unintended consequence for society and even create a new societal trend, which by my understanding is a technologically deterministic way of looking at things. Additionally, do people think that human enhancements are so unique that they are subject to these deterministic arguments? If yes, couldn’t we have said the same thing about other revolutionary technologies like the cotton gin or fire? When people suggest that we may have to pick career paths at birth due to these technologies, isn’t this just another assumption based off of a technologically deterministic premise.
April 15, 2016 at 3:34 pm #5917
As a direct reply to OP:
I agree heartily with your observation that Americans’ conceptions of their purpose, self-worth, and identity derive too much from their jobs. “What do you do?” is synonymous for “Who are you?”; how does this play into our discussion on the loss of self to technological advancement? Indeed, I believe the worst is behind us. The anomie caused by the Industrial Revolution has left us relatively devoid of mysticism, familial tightness, and meaning in work. Selling ourselves as labor to capitalists is unfortunately the price we have had to pay for the great advancements that have come about in the past two hundred years.
You argue that enhancements will drive competitiveness to the point of ridiculousness, thereby forcing us into an economy of aesthetics, meaning, and happiness. I do hope you are right. I fear that we will not be so quick to throw off this notion that we are our jobs, however. Rather, the same result may come about this century from our being wholly out-competed by AI. If humans need not apply, how will we continue to fool ourselves into thinking we are only worth what capital value our labor can produce?
April 15, 2016 at 4:09 pm #5919
I think it’s right to fear the increasing emphasis society is placing on profession and career specialization. As it becomes more difficult to pursue a selective career path, stress among those wanting to pursue that career path increases. In turn, those individuals might ascribe too much of their self-worth to their profession or grades, leading to an unstable self-image. In other words, caring too much about what your job is or your grades are can negatively impact what you think or yourself.
However, I do not think bio-enhancements will exacerbate this problem. As the bar is raised across the board, job requirements will increase, but so will our own capabilities. If we find it difficult to complete our assignments, because we cannot concentrate for more than a few hours without feeling fatigued, then our abilities to concentrate can be augmented. Likewise, there will probably be memory enhancements and reasoning enhancements that will benefit students that are hoping to pursue their choice careers. As the bar is raised, so are our capabilities.
Moreover, given that epigenetics plays a major role in future bio-enhancements, people will have more freedom in choosing their careers which could lead to enhanced satisfaction at work. Currently, someone may wish to be a doctor, but thinks his or her memory probably isn’t good enough to memorize human anatomy in medical school. If that person uses epigenetics to enhance their memory, then his or her new bio-enhancement will give him or her the confidence and augmented abilities to succeed. In addition, if this person doesn’t like their current career, they could redesign their epigenetic skill-set and try a new career out. If our lifespans are drastically increased, the time it takes to learn a new profession should not be an issue. Those who do find the careers meant for them will be much happier than those who had a difficult time getting into their current profession and feel as if they have no alternative.
April 15, 2016 at 7:39 pm #5960
I found OP’s argument very interesting and relevant to my job search as well. Early into my junior year, I was shocked by the amount of preparation required to secure a competitive investment banking internship (which would hopefully turn into a full-time job). While networking with senior members of these banks, I discovered that even though a few years ago one could wait until nearly the end of senior year to being the job search in this industry. However, with each year, it becomes more and more competitive and consequently, the process is further accelerated and moved earlier in the college career. For instance, although I could wait until the first few months of junior year to begin networking, while working as a Finance mentor in the Career Development Office, I discovered that applicants for this year’s process had to begin months before junior year began. In the span of one year, this process already moved back a few months and thus became more competitive.
I believe that bio-enhancements have a strong potential to exacerbate this problem. More specifically, as humans begin to increase their healthspan, they will tend to stay at their senior positions for longer and longer times. Therefore, this trend may result in overcrowding and a lack of opportunities for advancing to senior positions in companies. This fear was reinforced during my networking for a position in the financial industry, where partners staying in senior positions for long times (creating a lack of opportunities for senior advancement) was already a concern for full time financial analysts. Bess echoes this view during his chapter about increased lifespans. He states that some individuals may refuse to retool their skills and remain in their positions for “decades and decades… leaving little room for younger employees to move up in the company” (Bess 158). One rational remedy that I have heard is that creating “term limits” for senior positions could help relieve pressure and free up the management of these companies. Therefore, I believe that policy leaders should begin postulating potential answers to this problem now, before it has the potential to become widespread and significantly affect the economy.
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