The rise of automation is destined to replace some worker employment, and it could increasingly cause friction with efforts to create new jobs, a hallmark of the Donald Trump administration.
Many studies have forecast a day when repetitive and labor-intensive jobs will be recast by automation, though the jury is still out about whether the humans now holding those jobs will be elevated to more meaningful positions that utilize automation or will be replaced outright.
Donald Trump won the presidency with a promise to make great deals and bring business smarts to Washington. He’s not the first to argue that the federal government needs an injection of private-sector management savvy, writes Charles Duhigg (The New York Times). But with his cabinet full of billionaire business honchos and his disdain for the conventions of government, Trump is likely to give the old “President as CEO” concept its most ambitious field-test yet.
Don’t be surprised if it goes awry. As one former business person who served in George W. Bush’s cabinet puts it to Duhigg, “In government, you can’t fire anyone. Your board of directors is 535 people in Congress, and half of them want to see you fail.” Running the government simply demands a different set of management muscles than running a corporation. Former Treasury secretary (and, before that, Goldman Sachs CEO) Henry Paulson explains, “You succeed in Washington by collaborating.”
As we’ve been saying here since the election, neutrality is becoming nearly impossible for American businesses in Trump’s America. You are either with him or against him, and if you try to sit on the fence, circumstances will push you off.
Look at the L.L. Bean brouhaha (here’s Digg’s summary): The venerable outdoor-wear catalog merchant emphatically insists it’s apolitical. But Linda Bean, a scion of the family that owns it, is a major Trump donor and supporter. That landed the company on an anti-Trump boycott list. In response, Trump himself sent out a tweet Thursday urging people to “Buy L.L. Bean.” Free advertising! But with a catch.
The World Economic Forum gathers economists, businesspeople, and world leaders in Davos, Switzerland every January to hobnob about the state of the world from the side of a snowtopped Alp. When the event hit prime time in the ’90s, people started using the term “Davos Man” as shorthand for the global business elite.
Each year on the eve of the conference, the WEF releases a Global Risks Report that surveys its community about the dangers ahead. This year, economic performance trails far behind bigger worries like climate change, populist-fueled political instability, and inequality (CNBC). For the first time in 2017, “extreme weather events” tops the list of the most likely risks, followed by “large-scale involuntary migration,” “major natural disasters,” “terrorist attacks” and “data fraud/theft.”
Let’s just stipulate that 2016 was a lousy year. We lost the Greatest, Prince and a Princess (Leia), and saw the election of a clown who thinks he’s a king. Worse yet, the President-elect likes to communicate simple and wrong answers to complex questions in 140 characters. 2017 will be somewhat better if it sees the end of Silicon Valley tweeting its own 3 character simple and wrong answer to complex questions. UBI: It’s the wrong answer to the wrong question.
There is real angst in the United States about inequality and in particular with opportunity creation and the likelihood of moving ahead. Moreover, there is a legitimate debate about the future of work and what happens to employment with advances in technology (will software and robots eat our jobs?). Unfortunately, Silicon Valley’s obsession with the latest shiny object, Universal Basic Income, is making that problem worse. Like Donald Trump’s wall, it is absurdly expensive, won’t work and is a disingenuous distraction from the real problems. It’s time for Silicon Valley to stop the techno-libertarian navel gazing and turn their considerable talent and resource to the core issues.
I used to say that I wasn’t political, simply because it’s so hard to find a human representative in politics “worthy” of my respect, time and effort. I mean, most career politicians are plastic, inauthentic automatons whose sole critical missions are to get elected again and again. I couldn’t relate to any of them in my lifetime. Then Obama came along and Gavin Newsom and of course Trump. With Obama and Gavin, I found real people, politicians I could rally around, who authentically and emotionally care about the issues that I too think are the most vital, not because caring would get them elected but rather because they believed it was right.
I was inspired to write this short post by two articles published this week showcasing the dangers of taking the “I’m not political” stance. Trump’s Apprentice Outtakes by Nick Bilton and on The Miss Universe Tapes Coverup by Yashar. I am over-simplifying, but the principals at the media companies that controlled these tapes chose not to take stances (mostly for money) and in doing so influenced the election by their collective inaction. How much influence is unclear, since we know Trump’s behavior would have already destroyed almost any other candidate.
Stung by charges that it had become a lie amplifier, Facebook has announced a set of experiments to combat “fake news.” Users will be able to flag stories for review by third-party fact-checkers, and those confirmed as problematic will get tagged with warnings. In Steven Levy’s Backchannel piece on the move, Facebook leaders say their goal is to go after “clear black-and-white hoaxes, the bottom of the barrel, worst of the worst part of the fake news” — like the stories that claim the Pope endorsed Donald Trump or that Hillary Clinton kept sex slaves in a pizzeria.
Good luck to you, Facebook! You’ve just brought an algorithmic knife to a partisan machine-gun fight. You hope you can avoid taking sides, but the conservative part of your customer base is already rejecting the third parties — like Snopes, Politifact, and the AP — to whom you have outsourced the factchecking (Business Insider). And you’ve now incentivized partisan hordes to click “dispute” on all the stories they don’t like, true or false.
Unified conservative government in Washington has given Republicans an unobstructed path to repeal Obamacare. As Vice President-elect Mike Pence recently assured a group of Heritage Foundation donors at the Trump International Hotel, “We’re going to repeal Obamacare lock, stock and barrel,” calling repeal the incoming administration’s “number one priority.”
But as clear as the repeal path may be, it’s worth pausing to reflect on the actual merits supporting the unrelenting conservative attack on the law. As it turns out, the case against Obamacare is incredibly weak.
As tech leaders huddle with president-elect Donald Trump today, many of their employees — the developers and designers who are creating the products at their companies and in their ecosystems — are signing a pledge to work against some of Trump’s key policies. As of Wednesday morning, 624 people had signed the “Never Again” statement, which commits them not to help build a Muslim registry or other database based on race, religion, or national origin, not to facilitate mass deportations, and not to misuse data in ways that could facilitate a repressive government (Buzzfeed). That’s a 10X increase in signatories from the original statement, which launched just yesterday with 60 or so engineers.
As with the rebellion of Facebook employees against Mark Zuckerberg’s initial dismissal of complaints about “fake news” during the election, “Never Again” pits the yearning of tech companies’ rank and file workers to take ethical stands against the pragmatism and caution of their bosses. Anyone alarmed by Trump’s plans faces an age-old dilemma: Do you play an inside game and hope you can steer a potentially erratic and destructive administration off the rocks? Or take a public stand, outside the conference rooms, for principles and issues that are too important to compromise?
Kara Swisher wrote a solid and popular post lamenting what will be the painful visit of our fellow tech citizens to the evil Trump Tower this week.
While one would hope for a substantive discussion, it’s pretty clear to me that this is just going to be that media-saturated geek reality show episode, in which real billionaires walk the gantlet of prostration at Trump Tower and get exactly nothing for handing over their dignity so easily.