The Future of Work is Entering its Synth Era

mental health
category - ai
category - workplace
type - future of
Future of
The future of AI is full of paradoxes: productivity versus job displacement, innovation versus inequality, empowerment versus dependency, and enhancement versus dehumanisation. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the world of work, where we are entering a synth era.   

AI has dominated the business agenda since late 2022. If 2023 was a Wild West period for AI – characterised by swift, ground-breaking progress – then 2024 welcomes a new chapter. The fast-paced, ongoing shifts have far-reaching implications for the future of work and entrepreneurship. 

Almost 75% of companies are expected to adopt generative AI, says the World Economic Forum. While 25% anticipate resulting job losses, nearly half of these organisations expect AI to create job growth – meaning the realities are complex. Training workers to use AI and big data ranks third in companies’ skills-training priorities for the next five years. 

The initial consumer fascination with AI, led by platforms including ChatGPT, was just the beginning. This sparked an ongoing AI race – moving from business to consumer and back again. ‘Given the picture as we see it now, it’s conceivable that within the next 10 years, AI systems will exceed expert skill level in most domains, and carry out as much productive activity as one of today’s largest corporations,’ wrote OpenAI’s founders in a blog post published in 2023. 

Between novel applications, calls for regulation and accelerated innovation, AI’s evolution is quickly shifting from general to highly specialised. In embracing the breadth of opportunities it offers, however, we must take cautious steps to recognise where, when and how it should be used.  

Published by: Applied Foresight

26 April 2024

Author: Alex Hawkins

Image: The Future Laboratory


Toi Toi Toi Creative Studio for Contentful. Photography by Koy+Winkel, Germany

: The upside of automation 

For years, it has been feared that AI and automation will displace future workers. At present, about one in five American workers have a job with ‘high exposure’ to artificial intelligence, according to Pew Research Center. But technology and innovation also create new opportunities.  

Upskilling is likely to be key. A survey conducted by Jobs for the Future’s Center for Artificial Intelligence & the Future of Work showed the majority of respondents believe they will need new skills to compete in an AI-driven workforce. Among Gen Z and Millennials, 66% said they felt the need to hone and update their skillsets to maintain a competitive edge.  

There is a potential upside too. According to Censuswide, UK employees who use AI in the workplace are saving an average of 1.55 hours a day – hundreds of hours per year – but little has been said about what we will do with the time saved. By 2033, artificial intelligence could enable millions of workers to move to a four-day week, suggests a recent study focusing on British and American workforces. Pushing this further, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon has even put forward that AI could eventually shave another half day off the four-day work week.  

AI’s myriad use cases confirm one thing: the technology will drive efficiencies. But without a complete recalibration of company expectations and obsession with the bottom line, what does this really say about the state of work in the future? Could AI prompt society to fundamentally reimagine work and decouple purpose from productivity?  


‘Human beings are not binary. We’re complex and each has different workflows, requiring a whole range of experiences to be productive’
Rupinder Mann, managing director, UnNamed Ventures

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Left: Toi Toi Toi Creative Studio for Contentful. Photography by Koy+Winkel, Germany. Right: Space10 Library. Photography by Seth Nicolas, Denmark
Little Signals by Google and Map Project Office, UK

: The everyman entrepreneur 

By 2030, 600m jobs will be needed to absorb the growing global workforce. This makes the development of micro, small and medium enterprises a high priority. Alongside major shifts in work paradigms due to AI, there lies a powerful opportunity for individuals to carve out their niches, create value and shape the future through entrepreneurial ventures. 

AI could be the ultimate focus group. It will streamline and supercharge the start-up sector and transform what it means to start and succeed in business. By democratising access to resources and insights, it is set to change the way we ideate, validate and bring concepts to market.  

As one example, Inatigo, a technology company backed by Microsoft for Startups, has launched Adaine, a global all-in-one generative AI platform and business co-pilot for entrepreneurs. Designed to make entrepreneurship accessible to everyone, regardless of their background or experience, Adaine will provide entrepreneurs with an on-demand AI conversational business co-pilot that can help them start, run and fund their businesses.  

Already, platforms are integrating AI into their systems to increase capacity for entrepreneurs. Setting the stage for a new wave of entrepreneurship with diminished barriers to entry and success, we should all be preparing for an increasingly competitive landscape.  

: The human premium 

As with all major shifts, we need to consider the countertrends. Faced with increasing automation, studies are showing that AI is making employers place a greater value on soft skills. Concerns are also mounting about the proportion of the internet – and culture at large – that are being flooded with what a New York Times’ headline calls ‘AI-generated garbage’ and spam. 

Beyond the techno-optimism, AI users are starting to understand that beneath the technology’s utility lies a reevaluation of human creativity and its intrinsic value. It is not difficult to imagine a future where content certified as human-generated will be a highly desirable commodity.  

If AI is set to reshape our professional environments with a raft of new efficiencies, we need to remember that its promise extends beyond productivity. Experts are concerned that while AI might boost outputs, automate menial tasks and free up workers’ time, it could equally result in a new kind of burnout if people are constantly focused on complex work.  

The arrival of Cal Newport’s latest book Slow Productivity could not have been better timed. Offering a critical perspective on productivity and wellbeing, his insights serve as a reminder that in our pursuit of progress, we must not overlook the pitfalls of an overly automated world. 

So, as we embrace the possibilities of AI, we must also champion a culture that values depth, meaning and connection – elements that AI, for all its advances, cannot fully replicate.   


The future of AI and its implications for how consumers will work is part of The Future Laboratory’s latest market research Work States Futures. The report takes an in-depth look at five of the key emerging mindsets when it comes to the future of work, from inspiration and intent to learning and leadership. 

Cartier Tokyo Headquarters. Photography by Tomooki Kengaku, Japan

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