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Defining the future of work, before it defines us: The evolving International Labour Organization

Technology has constantly and consistently changed how people work and how economies and societies are organized. In the past, that global system has been somewhat disconnected, with countries working and growing independently. Abundant resources seemingly without limitation fed growth, education was limited to a few elites, and new industries represented new and more jobs for many. Globalization and technological advents enabled labor markets in developing countries to gain a slice of the global pie. This is a healthy trend in the world economy, with more people competing in and contributing to global output, resulting in increased economic efficiency. However, there are threats to the opportunities that today’s technologies represent for tomorrow. In the twenty-first century, the technologies at the center of the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”—robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and others—are defining the future of work and our society into a drastically different system than ever before. While past industrial revolutions created and destroyed jobs, they eventually resulted in overall positive net job effects, including improving working conditions, efficiency, and enabling diverse people to enter global supply chains. Well documented labor and human rights abuses throughout past industrial revolutions convinced governments and civil society to protect workers. The new Fourth Industrial Revolution will be similar in that if it is not well managed, it could lead to job loss and human rights abuses. But if confronted now through economic modernization and forward thinking, the fourth industrial revolution could power a sustainable future where emerging markets mature, and developed economies do not face similar shocks to the Great Depression and Great Recession.