Forget the four-day week—Microsoft founder Bill Gates is anticipating a three-day work week could be possible thanks to artificial intelligence.
Amid fears that mankind will struggle to compete against computers leading to mass unemployment, Gates is refreshingly predicting a utopian world where “machines can make all the food and the stuff, and we don’t have to work as hard”.
“In the near-term the productivity gain you get from AI is very exciting,” Gates recently said on Trevor Noah’s “What Now?” podcast. “It’s taking away part of the drudge work”
While many leaders view increased efficiency as the chance to get more out of their workers, he thinks it’ll provide the working population with the chance to dial back their efforts.
“If you eventually get a society where you only have to work three days a week, that’s probably OK,” the fourth richest man in the world said.
“If you free up human labor, you can help elder people better, have smaller class sizes – you know, the demand for labor to do good things is still there,” he added. “And then if you ever get beyond that, you have a lot of leisure time and you’ll have to figure out what to do with it.”
Overall, at 68 years old, the tech entrepreneur-tuned-philanthropist has gained a more philosophical view on the importance of work: “If you zoom out, the purpose of life is not just to do jobs.”
Leaders can’t agree on whether AI will displace or support workers
Gates isn’t the first tech leader to predict that people won’t have to work a five-day-plus work week to earn a living thanks to AI.
JPMorgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon recently echoed that the next generation of workers will only have a 3.5-day workweek and “will live to 100” because of technology.
Even Tesla and X owner, Elon Musk—a strong proponent of burning the midnight oil and sleeping in the office to prove your dedication to the job—thinks AI will eradicate the need to work at all and create “universal high income”.
“You can have a job if you want to have it for personal pleasure. But AI could do everything,” Musk told Britain’s prime minister Rishi Sunak at the U.K. AI Safety Summit.
At the same time, investment bank Goldman Sachs has estimated that AI could replace the equivalent of 300 million full-time jobs globally in the coming years.
Meanwhile, IBM’s CEO Arvind Krishna predicted “repetitive, white-collar jobs” will be automated first but adds that doesn’t mean humans will be out of jobs.
“People mistake productivity with job displacement,” he said at Fortune’s CEO Initiative conference.
As an example, he points to jobs created by the invention of the internet. “In 1995 no one thought there would be five million web designers—there are,” Krishna said.
However, not all leaders agree.
“If you’re getting productivity gains out of your existing workforce, you will need less workers.” Carl Eschenbach, co-chief executive officer of Workday told Bloomberg.
One CEO, Suumit Shah, the CEO of India-based Duukan, proved as much when he sacked 90% of his workforce and replaced them with AI and called it a “no brainer”.
Meanwhile, Indeed recently made sweeping layoffs in the company’s recruitment department, but none in its AI arm of the business. Now, the employment platform chief, Chris Hyams, wants to create “cyborg” recruiters that play to the strengths of both humans and AI.
The shorter week is already here (for some)
While Gates is predicting a shorter week is yet to come, the reality is some are already enjoying one.
America’s Got Talent creator Simon Cowell recently revealed he’s stopped working on a Friday because it’s “pointless”, and major employers like Samsung have started giving staff one Friday off each month.
In Iceland, where the four-day workweek was trialed between 2015 and 2019, workers represented by unions—close to 90% of the workforce—have now won the right to request a shorter workweek.
Likewise, in 2021, the Japanese government’s annual economic policy guidelines included a recommendation that companies let employees opt for a four-day workweek.