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Will there still be Santa?

Principal Advisor, Productivity Commission
20 December 2019

I’ve got some bad news about Santa Claus. The North Pole may be far, but it’s not too far to avoid the tentacles of technological change. While Santa is no slouch when it comes to adopting technology (having adopted assembly lines about 100 years ago, and more recently using real-time warehouse management systems to run his 4 million square foot distribution centre), this time round, the predictions are dire.

It’s no less than a threat to Santa Claus’ very existence – I’m talking about the prediction that Santa himself will be put out of work by technology. How might such a horrific future eventuate you may ask? Well, look at the possibilities:

  • No longer will Santa be needed to keep a track of who’s been naughty or nice – your smart fridge or whatever other Internet of Things enabled home devices you may have (I’m looking at you Amazon Echo) will do it for you – and far more accurately. Christmas Eve delivery will be done by drone, and rather than needing to send a letter to the Big Guy, super accurate algorithms will know what you want for Christmas before you do.
  • Elves – the ultimate seasonal workers – will become victims of occupational drift, seeing a steady decline in their occupational share as their labour gets automated. Even those who switched early from toy manufacturing to service sector jobs in surveillance will find themselves on the shelf. Soon, elves will be the main source of Uber drivers (before this occupation too gets taken over by AI…).
  • Even reindeer won’t be immune as they’re made redundant by the latest in self-driving sleigh technology (although this could happen slightly later in the piece as it’s pretty clear self-guiding tech is a pretty complex proposition).

Now, I know this future is making your inner four-year-old scream with horror (and don’t even think about sharing these predictions with an actual four-year-old). Fortunately, like the best Margaret Atwood novel, this dystopian future is, for now, just fiction.

Instead, I’m glad to be the bearer of tidings of great joy – Santa Claus is alive and well! As with journalist Francis Church’s letter to little Virginia O’Hanlon over 120 years ago, we can rest assured that “he lives, and he lives forever” – that “a thousand years from now, nay ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood”.

Merry Christmas to all our readers from the Tech change and future of work team here at the Productivity Commission. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading our posts over this year (we’ve certainly enjoyed writing them for you). We’ll be back in the new year with more blog posts as well as more reports on the future of work.The team

Photo: The busy postal clerks of New York City helping Santa to sort Christmas mail in 1954. Volkmar K. Wentzel & Donald Mcba / Getty Images

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  • Gravatar for Amy

    Amy 20 Dec 2019, 10:14 (2 months ago)

    One change I've noticed (or think I've noticed) in NZ since my own 80s childhood is that, while "Santa Claus" is alive and well, "Father Christmas" has all but vanished. A Google Ngram search shows that this is not a global change, and maybe my impression is misleading... but I feel like, when I was a kid, "Santa" existed only on American TV, whereas now it's a (or even the) normal NZ term. Ditto candy, elevator, sidewalk. To be clear, I don't lament this - language should change as people's needs and preferences change. Just like occupations!

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