Vitalik Buterin Says He’s “Destroyer of Jobs, Creator of Better Ones”


Automation is happening. Bank branches have given way to ATMs in all corners and to online banking. Shopping checkouts are now more machine checkouts. Oyster cards in London make ticket sellers unnecessary.

That’s just what we can see directly on a daily basis. In Europe’s biggest port, self-driving machines are no longer on the whiteboard, but on the shipping floors. Manufacturing is now more robo-facturing.

That too we can see, although the “we” here might be a relatively small number. But what current automation has much in common is that it mostly affects individuals with a low relative level of education.

But what if professional jobs are on the line? What if courts go the way of bank branches? What if the skyscraping towers of insurance companies are reduced to some lines of code?

Would that give us a utopia where finally so much wealth can make communism work? Or would that instead lead to the enslavement of the human race with a handful of billionaires controlling all the machines and thus all men?

We think something else is more probable, and Buterin seems to agree with us in stating during an interview with Vice that he is the “destroyer of jobs, creator of better ones.”

That succinct statement is very much Vitalik, but the idea behind it is more widespread and widely held particularly in Silicon Valley but also more generally.

Smart contracts do have the ability to replace many manual, though slightly “intellectual,” tasks. Legal templates, for example, can for some simple functions be turned into code. Any, somewhat repetitive process, can really be automated.

But instead of removing the need to perform a task and thus generally buying us “time,” they tend to rather create more complexity, and thus more work.

The past somewhat clearly shows this. Farming employed many people, some 70%, but there is no way those jobs can be enough for the current population.

Then, factories too employed many people and destroyed many farming jobs, but factories too can not possibly provide the number of needed jobs for the current population.

Digitization, thus, created a service economy and led to a transition from manufacturing, which has now mostly moved to very poor, or previously very poor, countries, and to robo-facturing.

Yet digitization too probably can’t support say the expansion of the human race to Mars. That would require a higher level of productivity, potentially some peace on earth or a general getting along well, and quite a bit of automation.

Which may mean the “low level” admin jobs of the future will probably not be repetitive administrative tasks, but instead jobs that require somewhat simple judgment calls or lateral thinking.

That is, humans will be sort of the directors of the bots, because bots of course can’t think. They can only do exactly what they are told. That “directing” will probably have layers. Some will obviously code the bots, some will analyze the data, some will determine what all that means, some will do the directing of humans and so on.

Take the decentralized autonomous organization. That creates a collective of sorts for token holders to decide what start-up to give what amount. The money itself is held by the smart contract, but the smart contract acts only if 51% of voters approve.

If we generalize and think say year 2,050, you could argue this has kind of replaced company lawyers because the articles of association etc are the smart contract itself. We also do not really need accountants here because the blockchain has replaced double-book keeping, reconciliation and so on. We do not need a board of directors or CEOs either, because the token holders are both.

But for this to really work we do need a lot of things. First of all, we need a coder dev to design the website interface where the voting can nicely be done. That website interface also probably needs reports, many reports. Someone has to analyze the companies/proposals, vet them, maybe give a recommendation.

Someone needs to curate information, nicely put in front of token-holders what decision might need to be done. Say whether it is a controversial decision, or instead a clear yes/no. Someone has to manage all this data, someone has to do statistics on it.

There are a lot of jobs we can see here that kind of already exist, but are now somewhat rare. In a world run by code, they would be much more prominent.

Curating information, for example, is already a job. As is analyzing things. But currently they’re quite rare and pretty competitive to get. In the future they might be a lot more common, and perhaps similar to current administrative jobs.

We do think these jobs would be better because they would not be boring. Those doing them might even actually enjoy it, or at least they might not hate it. As they would be exercising judgment and engage in lateral thinking, they might feel more self-fulfilled.

That does mean higher education will need to transition from a current commodity of sorts, to the same wide attendance as say primary schools.

Meaning everyone will need to go to university, while 20%-30% might even do PhDs. Life expectancy will hopefully continue increasing since people should hopefully become happier due to the nicer jobs, and since our knowledge of health should continue increasing through the increased productivity partly because of digitization/automation.

Therefore collectively we should hopefully be able to afford wider education until the age of mid-twenties to early thirties. That means generally we’ll become smarter or more knowledgable, allowing us to manage the added complexity, and even to add more on top of it.

Eventually, coding will probably be taught alongside maths/literacy, starting at maybe 7. Currently it is a speciality, but eventually there probably won’t be a job that doesn’t require some basic coding skill like currently maths and reading is required.

There will then, of course, still be bankers, lawyers, and so on. But they will too probably face their own farmers moment. There still are farmers of course, but lawyers will use a lot more “machines,” which instead of being physical are digital code systems, or bots, or some program of sorts, perhaps running on smart contracts.

We may certainly be wrong, we have no crystal ball, but it does look more likely that instead of all this creating a utopia where no one has to work and is free to engage in painting or whatever, we’ll rather have a lot more complexity, and thus a lot more work, but more fulfilling work, more enjoyable jobs.

We’ll also probably be able to support more art by making its monetization easier through tokenization, just as we might be able to support more creative works. And, really, it may well be that everything will become creative work as automation at the digital level does mean a sort of extension of the intellect.

We should think that’s a good thing, but how it turns out exactly remains to be seen.