The Future of Work is Emotional

The Future of Work is Emotional
"Taylor Swift 2010" by avrilllllla is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

For thousands of years work meant mainly manual labor.

Then, we replaced manual labor with machines.

Now we work on things that require thinking.

Cognitive labor defines our current work.

In the coming years we will replace cognitive labor with artificial intelligence.

This means the future of work is emotional labor.

And there’s already examples of this all around us.

Let’s dig in:

Past = Manual Labor

Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most people did manual labor.

Then the engine and electricity added exponentially more power to our labor.

It no longer took everyone to produce the basic necessities of life.

This freed us up to work on things that did not exist before.

Present = Cognitive Labor

As we replaced manual labor with machines, our work changed from primarily manual, to primarily cognitive.

There are still many people who make a living with their hands.

But they are generally skilled laborers, which means their work is also cognitive.

This means that the majority of us now work in 1 of two ways:

  1. Doing manual labor that requires thinking.
  2. Doing knowledge work that is only thinking.

We have completely shifted from work that is primarily about manual labor…..To work that is primarily about cognitive labor.

Future = Emotional Labor

The engine and electricity replaced manual labor.

AI is replacing cognitive labor.

This means:

  1. Knowledge work will be replaced by AI enabled software.
  2. Skilled manual labor will be replaced by AI enabled machines.

Many people believe that replacing both manual and cognitive labor will mean the end of work.

But I believe that’s wrong.

Electricity and the engine didn’t end work.

And AI won’t either.

It will simply free human labor to do work that requires something in addition to manual and cognitive labor...

Something that humans have and value.

And that machines and AI do not have.

So what do we have and value that machines and AI do not???


That’s why the future of work is emotional.

And I’m not just guessing about this.

Emotional work already exists.

It’s just not yet our primary form of labor.

We have been able to listen to recordings of music for decades.

But people still pay to go to concerts.


It’s pretty much exactly the same music….

And often times the recordings are higher quality than the live performances….

But it’s more emotional to be there in person.

And Taylor Swift just made over a billion dollars from concerts built on her emotional labor.

Art is not the only example of emotional labor

It’s just its purest form.

But emotional labor exists as a component of many other jobs as well.

Take teachers for example.

Reciting the lesson is the cognitive component of the job.

But the best teachers aren’t the ones that can recite the lesson the best.

They are the ones that can connect with their students on a deeper, emotional level.

The emotional labor portion of a teacher’s job is at least as important as the cognitive portion.

So emotional labor exists today, it’s just not our primary form of work.

Soon it will be.

Think I’m crazy?

If you can’t imagine most work being emotional, then think about it this way:

You’re living in the 1700’s.

99% of the people around you make a living doing manual labor that requires little thinking.

And I tell you that in the future many people will earn a living sitting behind something called “a computer” and doing “knowledge work”.

People would have thought I was crazy then too…

They’d have only been partly correct.

Thanks for reading.


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