The world’s first kid’s book about technological unemployment

Folkes Fremtidsrejser is a children’s book about a father losing his job. It is, at first glance, a strange juxtaposition of bright, hopeful illustrations, and a very real, and very anxiety-provoking issue. But perhaps less strange when you meet its creator, Denis Rivin, who describes himself as a critical optimist.

Denis is an alumnus of Founders of Tomorrow back when it was called Danske Ideer. Nowadays, he’s a public speaker and recently did his first TEDx talk. It was all about critical optimism. We were keen to know how he applied this mindset to writing a children’s book. Luckily for us, he works in the same office. So we sat him down at lunch and fired a bunch of questions at him.

First of all, what’s the book about?

Seemingly it’s the world’s first children’s book about technological unemployment. It’s about this boy called Folke, and his family live in a city called Future Copenhagen. It’s set in the relatively near future and most things are quite recognisable. His dad is a cab driver, but no one wants to take his cab. People prefer to fly, so he’s slowly becoming unemployed. The whole book is an exercise in thinking about what we can do in a future where unpredictability is high, and where we’re all being told that jobs will disappear.

What inspired you to write this story?

So while reading to my son, I found that there was this interesting point before he developed his language where it was just one-way communication, and I was reflecting a lot on what I was reading to him. I wanted to read things that were significant, not just basic things. So critical optimism was very important for writing this book. This is about actively seeking out opportunities, and the book presents different options for the father.

The book also tries to argue that it’s wrong to think that only blue-collar workers are being targeted. Politicians need to take a lead on this and understand that their jobs are not at all secure either. The first thing the father does when he stops driving a cab is to take care of politicians, who, in the future, are robots.

Would you be more comfortable with robot politicians?

No, that’s not what I’m saying. But it’s an idea that no one is talking about. Often the focus is on something like the driverless car, because it’s tangible. But what politicians do is exactly what we know computers are best at: reading a lot of documents, analysing data, and creating a plan.

In the future, political decisions will be made through a collaboration between machines and people. And I don’t think politicians will be happy about it. They’ll be the last people to suggest and implement such an idea, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not going to come much sooner than they think.

What’s your TEDx talk about?

It’s about mass collaboration without institutional direction. It’s about this idea that small strokes fell great oaks, which is so provocatively banal that it’s difficult to talk about, but is so true. If one million people do something, it will have a huge effect. There are many examples of this today, like 1.5 million people in India planting 6.6 million trees in 12 hours.

The talk is also about critical optimism in a complex and confusing time. We are seeing some huge changes in mentality. Ordinary people are being empowered by digitisation. Tools and connectivity are being democratised. Influence has been democratised. More and more people think they can make a positive change in the world. There are many tools, like the Sustainable Development Goals, which help us speak the same language across different cultures. They’ve allowed people to work together to solve problems that have historically been the purview of governments. I think this is amazing.

What were you doing when you signed up for Founders of Tomorrow (Dansk Ideer)?

At the time, I was involved in my first startup. We basically tried to rethink the education system. To this day, I can’t explain it simply. It crashed and burned after just over two years. But I’m extremely fortunate to have had that experience. We were standing on a mountain of rookie mistakes, but we learned a lot.

How was the experience at the bootcamp?

It was a huge eye-opener. So intense and exciting. I was already drawn to the field of technological development, so I was very much in the zone. I met many people that made me think about things differently and was in the perfect place in my life to take it all in.

Back then, the theme was the eight great challenges facing the world. I remember one night, I couldn’t sleep, I had this vision of addressing the group in the morning. I really wanted to tell them something. So the next day, I just stood up and launched into this five-minute speech, I forced them to put the challenges on the wall and I said, there’s a ninth challenge, which is: to communicate to the entire world that we are actually about to solve these challenges. It’s really interesting because that’s what I’m doing now, that’s the message I’m trying to communicate.

Buy Folkes Fremtidsrejser here. The book is currently only available in Danish.

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