Google CEO Larry Page believes increasing automation will mean that working 40 hours a week will no longer be necessary.
Page says a small amount of economic resources go toward critical needs like housing, and that theoretically, maintaining living needs shouldn't require people to work as much as they do.
"So the idea that everyone needs to work frantically to meet people's needs is just not true," Page says in a recent interview with Khosla Ventures where he and Google co-founder Sergey Brin talked about their partnership, technology and a range of topics. "I do think there's a problem that we don't recognize that. I think there's also a social problem that a lot of people aren't happy if they don't have anything to do. So we need to give people things to do. We need to feel like you're needed, wanted and have something productive to do."
Page suggests that instead of hiring one person to work 40 hours per work, companies could hire two people to work 20 hours. It's a slightly higher cost for businesses, but it would drastically reduce unemployment, especially for young single people who may not need a full-time salary to support themselves.
The idea encounters some problems when it runs up against real-world market prices, however. Most people currently spend around 40 percent of their total income on housing. Changing to part-time employment would cut wages in half, leaving housing as 80 percent of total income, with only 20 percent left to cover food, clothing, and other needs.
Interestingly, the solution to this problem may also be what created the issue in the first place: increased automation of work in society. Housing construction is one area that remains almost entirely the responsibility of a human workforce. It creates jobs, but it's also responsible for the large percentage of income that housing occupies. If automated systems were used to construct houses, prices would be reduced. Perhaps then Page's idea of splitting jobs between two people could be more feasible.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin sees things a bit differently, arguing that jobs aren't going away anytime soon, they are simply moving to different industries.
"It gets shifted from one place to another, but people always want more stuff or more entertainment or more creativity or more something," Brin says.
Page says there have been some arguments indicating that's not as true as it once was. In the end, however, it's impossible to predict what effect increasing automation will have on society. More human skills are being replaced by machines, and that's something that has never happened before. One of Page's comments is undoubtedly true: "Nobody really knows the answer to that question."