What can be done now to ensure all independent workers thrive in the years ahead?

The global economy is undergoing an unprecedented transformation, driven by new technologies and increasing globalization. One outcome is the creation of a burgeoning new class of independent workers. Roughly one-third of working Americans are now working independently—from well-paid contract workers to temp workers struggling to make ends meet—and the numbers are expected to climb in the coming decade, as artificial intelligence and advanced robotics disrupt more and more industries. It’s possible to view this dramatic increase in the number of independent workers as a positive development that makes for a more efficient 21st-century economy, more productive companies, and more autonomous and flexible workers. But given that our society still largely runs on 20th-century policies and systems, these independent workers face a variety of challenges, including ensuring consistent work and maintaining security in their lives.

This Future of Work project will focus on a key question: What can we do today to ensure that independent workers thrive in the years ahead? We plan to look at how tech companies and entrepreneurs could develop new tools and solutions to help make the lives of independent workers more stable and productive. For example, how could AI be used not to displace, but to augment independent workers, and to help them maintain a constant flow of work? We will also explore how government and civil society, particularly at the state and local levels, could evolve regulatory and social safety net systems to improve the lives of independent workers and their families. For example, how could California—a state that is often first to encounter many of these historic developments—pioneer new approaches to treating independent workers and act as a laboratory for the rest of the country? What does a 21st-century social safety net look like, and how might we fund it?

The series will connect up a diverse group of innovators from a range of distinct yet complementary areas of expertise through physical gatherings, virtual roundtables, and in-depth interviews. We plan to pool our collective knowledge and experiences, and develop new ideas for positive steps forward for independent workers. All of these in-depth conversations will be made available through video and other media to allow those with similar interests to join us, as we explore what we need to do today to build a better future for all.


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