Olive is 18 years old and is still unsure what studies she would like to pursue. If she is honest with herself the studies themselves are not an immediate concern, as she has very good academic results. Her parents provide her with a supportive environment, including private tutors, specialized programs, and apps, which allow her, essentially, to choose what she wants to study, gently guiding her towards areas that will be of interest to her and that are predicted to support her personal and professional development.
But with every day she does not decide what comes next, the pressure to do so only increases. What career or vocation does she want to pursue? As Olive becomes an adult, in 2041, one thing remains unchanged: the choice of deciding her vocation is still hers alone, not a computer's. This continues to be a massive source of stress for her parents.
Like countless young adults before her, she wonders just how to balance economic and ethical considerations, struggles to envision something that is both feasible and desirable. How can one find their own balance between what society values and pays for, and what one knows how to do or can learn to do? What does one enjoy doing? What, above all, will make a meaningful life?
Let's start with the first question and put ourselves in Olive's shoes. She is almost 20 years old, and she is trying to predict what types of jobs will be profitable in the next 20 years...
Maybe they are mining jobs, dealing specifically with the exploitation of natural resources? Back in 2023, such jobs were undervalued in some countries, highly concentrated in others, a dynamic driven by the scarcity of natural resources. In Olive's time, a larger portion of the extraction and exploration processes are accelerated by AI. She learns that AI is driving precision agriculture — there is a growing divide between traditional agriculture, which is now a pure luxury good, accessible only to a minority, and a more industrial agriculture, where AI optimizes the growth of proteins in vats.
After an exciting geology class, Olive grows passionate about the extraction of mineral resources and the distribution of atoms and molecules on earth. She reads articles that make projections 10 or 20 years into the future on the scarcity of minerals and fossil material.
She grasps the possibility that, after a few decades of extraction, there may be a labor shift that sees a convergence of extraction jobs and recycling jobs. This would be an exciting turnaround! For example, to obtain the raw materials necessary for the production of plastic, it will be necessary to balance the tradeoffs between the extraction of oil, which has become too expensive to burn anyway, and the recycling of plastic waste.
Olive looks and imagines following a dual curriculum in petrochemicals and recycling — it's probably a secure job anyway and the opportunity to work in a growth industry. Maybe she should get a PhD? She hesitates; eventually, she loses interest.
Maybe the future is in the transformation of physical goods? In 2023, many manufacturing and processing jobs were moved to low-cost labor countries as part of a decades-long trend of globalization of trade. In Olive's time, gains in automation, transportation costs, and geopolitical risks have changed the picture, with more local production.
What interests Olive the most are the nearly-automated production chains — driven by artificial intelligence — which have also become more adaptable manufacturing chains, capable of being reconfigured for a variety of products. In 2023, only products with high added technological value, such as vehicles or microprocessors, were produced from highly automated manufacturing chains. Olive is passionate about a documentary on the future of the clothing industry: robots are changing the way clothes are made.These compete with "handmade" production, which has become a specialized, high-margin luxury industry — "Made by human hands" appears in consumer surveys as a strong signal for an intent to purchase, almost as potent as "sustainably produced". Olive hesitates: what if she both studied manual work and received a degree in automation chains? Is the future at the crossroads of these two worlds?
It's not entirely clear to her, mostly because she doesn't really know what type of craftsmanship to get into, nor what she’d be good at.
Maybe she should go into sales and trading. One thing hasn't changed for the past two millennia — to sell, one must convince another human being to buy. This still holds true in Olive's time, although the means of persuasion are becoming increasingly digital. When Olive was 15, generative techniques exploded in the field of digital marketing and sales, creating almost a societal discomfort with the sheer amount of information generated.
In 2023, some of the most popular and lucrative jobs were selling of high-added-value goods (often in B2B) who know how to orchestrate complex sales — those are still around, and still as necessary! As for B2C, the prevalence of translation and generation techniques led to a concentration of marketing jobs in certain countries — one could reach the entire world with many fewer language barriers!
Olive doesn't have a strong appetite for jobs with human contact. But she is passionate about a book she's read: the "0-Hour GPT-Work Week". The author describes how he designed robots that make their own websites and launch their own campaigns to market a variety of dietary supplements.
She's not sure if this is reality or fiction, but she wonders: is it a job for me? And does she really need to study to do it?
Maybe she’s best suited for a service job.? In Olive's time, the aging population has led to a boost in personal service jobs all over the world. These locally-defined services are becoming increasingly more valuable, driven by the shrinking population able to provide them. This would be a good direction for a career, were the first personal robotic assistants not just beginning to emerge — the first robotic masseur, the first AI pharmacists, the first AI personal trainer...
Olive therefore imagines that succeeding in services in her future will mean managing fleets of robots interacting daily with people. Management, she knows, is tough; it's primarily a question of motivating others. But robots, a priori, do not need motivation... so what will they need from their managers? To feel appreciated by their users? Or to have a connection with them? Maybe they need to feel emotionally relevant?
Olive thinks it would be a good idea to do a double major in psychology and robotics to tackle this problem.
But then again, maybe she should think about management consulting in business. In Olive's time, there are still bankers — it's been several centuries and their job hasn't fundamentally changed, it's just become more complicated. Short-term trading activities have become increasingly robotic, extending 40 years of job evolution — but medium-term trading remains a matter of skill, judgment, and good relationships.
On the management side, managing a company is still based on making hard judgment calls and placing bets that investors don't want AI to make — after all, you need someone to fire when it all goes wrong. The most innovative aspect of finance remains the creation of new accounting methods around ESG metrics. There are different attempts to build parallel systems to the financial system to evaluate the economic and social impacts of companies. The field is not yet fully defined.
Olive thinks very long and hard about a double major in economics, as well as analytics and artificial intelligence...It's very tempting!
But maybe the best choice would be a career that combines design and the creation of intellectual property. The "creator" profession has constantly evolved and become more democratic in the last century: creators have become independent in all fields — music, literature, media, software. The creation of intellectual property has always been a subject of geopolitical domination, either through culture or through control of technologies.
Creativity has evolved significantly in recent years; music is no longer composed in exactly the same way, the best authors are assisted by AI, even celebrity chefs consult with software when building complex flavor recipes.
Olive is particularly interested in the profession of architecture and object design — the progress of 3D printing, AI-assisted design, and nano-technologies allow for the creation of surprising shapes, objects, and designs.
After almost 20 years spent mostly in the virtual world, Olive is deeply moved by a modern art exhibition, in which the artist uses new technologies to reproduce and reinvent old objects — nurtured by the virtual world, Olive becomes enamored by that which her childhood had often lacked: the physical world
Struck by a sudden fit of passion, she creates her own curriculum combining design, artificial intelligence, and nano-tech. Will Olive invent a new profession?