A spirited conversation on the future of work debates the best policies for a world in significant transition.
There are many “future of work” panels, but none that have featured wealthy capitalist turned activist Nick Hanauer, author, entrepreneur and tech leader Tim O’Reilly, and policy expert and economics professor Laura Tyson. Moderated by Alexandra Suich Bass, U.S. technology editor, The Economist, this panel debates everything from universal basic income to the role of unions in modern corporations. Not to be missed. Full video and edited transcript below.
Alexandra Suich Bass: I would like to start our panel on the Future of Work in an unconventional place. Talking about the future of work can sometimes feel like watching the most depressing movie imaginable in slow motion. I’d like to ask you guys to give me some positive news. What’s something that we can be excited about as it relates to work in the future? Nick, I’ll start with you.
This week’s selection involves research into demographics, cities, social services, and “raising” better bots
I dedicated this week’s issue of my newsletter, Exponential View, to the ongoing and necessary conversations about inequality and bias in automation processes. Here are five pieces I recommend you read on the topic this week:
1. Research on demographics, automation & inequality
Bain, a consultancy, published results of their research into demographics, automation and inequality, warning of increasing volatility. Interesting and challenging times ahead: “faced with market imbalances and growth-stifling levels of inequality, many societies may reset the government’s role in the marketplace.” EXCELLENT
In the world of the future, automated perfection is going to be common. Machines will bake perfect cakes, perfectly schedule appointments and keep an eye on your house. What is going to be scarce is human imperfection.
We are still early in the early days of these developments, but we’re already seeing an uptake in artisanship. As Economist’s Ryan Avent writes, the trend offers clues about the future economy:
Craft is, in general, far less well-paid than professional work. Yet the benefits it offers — the satisfaction of controlling one’s own destiny, acquiring a range of skills, creating beautiful and delicious things, forming friendships with suppliers and customers — make up for the reduced incomes and ensure that there is a small, steady migration of professionals into the craft economy.
By Mousa Ackall, VP of Brand Marketing, WorkMarket
The hype around artificial intelligence (AI) and automation is alive and well. It’s hard to browse your Twitter feed or peruse the web without seeing something about autonomous vehicles, AI powered thingamajigs, or the impending robot apocalypse.
New technologies create immense opportunities — and consequences. When innovating and automating, we need to be mindful of the human impact.
Artificial intelligence (AI), automation, Internet of Things (IoT) and blockchain — we know these disruptive technologies are changing the world. They’re reducing friction and inefficiencies in markets, fostering new innovations that help people live longer, better lives, and helping under-served parts of the world gain access to micro-financing. And they are allowing companies to develop new products and services that delight their customers.
But for all of the opportunities these new technologies offer, there are also consequences. In the race to innovate, automate and streamline their operations, organizations need to be mindful of the human implications. For organizations — and people — it is no longer business as usual.
Automation may create fewer jobs than those being lost
The economy stands at a threshold moment in the era of machine learning. The artificial intelligences that companies are increasingly deploying are just beginning to take on roles and jobs that used to demand a human being at the controls. But in most cases they’re nowhere near ready to take over entirely. They still need people at their sides — in some cases to generate the data that will train them, in others to provide judgment that’s beyond them.
Welcome to the world of the hybrid human-machine workplace. A couple of recent articles have begun to give us a portrait of this emerging work environment, with its awkward encounters, unemployment fears, and potential for both efficiency and exploitation.
The new machine-learning techniques transforming how digital systems operate don’t work like old software programs. Once upon a time, programmers wrote code, and the code worked — or it didn’t, and the programmers debugged. But how do you debug a neural network? In Technology Review, Will Knight explores “the dark secret at the heart of AI”: We can’t really know why AIs do what they do. They are not programmed, but trained.
When a machine-learning program provides an answer, a decision, or a choice that its human operators believe is wrong, they can tell it so, and it will incorporate that data into its next choices. But most AIs can’t turn around and tell us how they reached a particular outcome. This “explainability” problem poses practical, legal, and moral questions we’re only beginning to scope out.
When it comes to experimenting with contractors’ behavior, how far do gig-economy companies like Uber go? Pretty far, according to a new in-depth account by The New York Times’ Noam Scheiber.
In a sense, the entire Uber platform is like a Skinner box or ant farm for isolating and examining how different incentives and inputs produce different outputs from riders and drivers. Uber is constantly tweaking the behavior of its drivers, the people formerly known as employees, with gamification-style interface elements — like badge rewards or notifications that pop up to say, “You’re $10 away from making $330 in net earnings. Are you sure you want to go offline?”
Let’s circle back one more time to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s extraordinary comment that artificial intelligence is “not even on my radar screen” and won’t affect the job market for 50 to 100 years. What was he smoking? And please keep it away from us, okay?
The double whammy of AI and robotics, what observers are calling “the fourth industrial revolution,” is certainly on the rest of the world’s radar, and already having an impact on transportation, manufacturing, retail, medicine, education — everything. We can’t know how this wave of change will play out; scenarios range from utopia to doomsday, and we’re already beginning to live them.
Toward the end of my Newco Shift Forum panel on the future of work in February, a woman from France rose and implored me to reconsider advocating for the idea of a basic income. “Do you really want increased dependency on public programs like we have in my country?” she asked.
The moderator called time before I had a chance to address that aspect of her multi-pronged question but as we walked offstage, he asked me how I would have responded. I replied, “We have large and growing indigent and homeless populations in the U.S., just imagine what it will be like if automation causes large numbers of people to lose their jobs.”